U.S.-Backed Militia Opens Drive on ISIS Capital in Syria

American soldiers at a barricade north of Raqqa, Syria, on Sunday.

A joint Kurdish-Arab militia has begun a new phase in the operation to dislodge the Islamic State from its stronghold in Raqqa, Syria,
moving to encircle the city and largely cut off the resupply of arms, supplies and fighters, American military officials confirmed on Sunday.
Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said on Sunday that he welcomed the start of the militia’s operation. “The effort to isolate, and ultimately liberate, Raqqa marks the next step in our coalition campaign plan,” Mr. Carter said in a statement.

By supporting the advance on Raqqa, American officials are sweeping aside objections from Turkey and moving forward with plans to rely on a ground fighting force that includes Kurdish militia fighters in Syria. The Turkish government, which has become a complicated ally in the fight against the Islamic State, fears that aspirations for autonomy will spread among its own Kurdish population.
In a move to assuage Turkish concerns, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made a previously unannounced visit to Ankara, the Turkish capital, on Sunday for talks with his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, in part to consult on battle plans for Raqqa, according to General Dunford’s spokesman, Capt. Greg Hicks.
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs could not be reached for comment on Sunday, but last month Ankara asked Washington to exclude the Syrian Kurdish militias from the operation to liberate Raqqa, saying Turkey was ready to provide military support.

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