Purported US airstrikes kill civilians near Raqqa, ISIS' HQ in Syria

US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces made up of an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters launched an offensive for Raqa the IS's de facto capital in early November

Gen. Joseph Votel, the top USA commander in the Middle East, signaled Thursday that there will be a larger and longer American military presence in Syria to accelerate the fight against IS and quell friction within the complicated mix of warring factions there.

He said Raqqa was "a priority for us", but indicated that there could also be a parallel attack by the army towards Deir al-Zor in the east, near the Iraqi border.

Cavusoglu gave no deadline for any withdrawal of the YPG militia, seen by Ankara as a hostile force allied to PKK Kurdish militants fighting an insurgency on Turkish soil.

The deployment effectively put USA forces in the role of peacekeeper, after YPG offensives last month near Manbij blocked Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army advances.

Though after the August invasion Turkey initially focused on ISIS targets, they have always said their intention was to exterminate both ISIS and the YPG, and recently, indications are they are keen to move more against the Kurds than against ISIS. Its forces began the operation to encircle Raqqa in November. The group said US -led coalition aircraft were believed to behind the attack.

Daesh leaders are being pulled out of its self-declared capital Raqqa, as Kurdish-led forces appear ready for an assault on the city.

The U.S.is sending 2,500 additional forces to Kuwait to serve in a reserve capacity in the fight against the Islamic State, Army Times reports.

"We have become very comfortable and capable of operating together", said Votel, whose post before CentCom was as commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.


At the center of the debate is Turkish anger that the US has signaled it plans to arm and back Kurdish YPG forces to take back Raqqa.

Syria requested that the U.N. Security Council pressure Turkey to pull out its "invasion forces" from Manbij on Friday, a day after Ankara said it would attack any Syrian Kurdish YPG forces in their way. "The problem is it will be a huge gamble to really do that with US, Russia and YPG, who are a proficient fighting force".

U.S. Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, of the anti-IS coalition, said all the forces acting in Syria have converged "within hand-grenade range of one another".

On Tuesday, the Minbij Military Council, which is part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), handed areas west of Minbij to Syrian government forces, part of an agreement brokered by Russian Federation.

And while US troops are deployed in the country, they are not directly involved in the fighting. "In all the wars the Americans took part in, their forces' presence has some prestige, status, and confrontations are avoided".

The meeting of coalition foreign ministers, on March 22 and 23, aims "to accelerate global efforts to defeat ISIS in the remaining areas it holds in Iraq and Syria and maximise pressure on its branches, affiliates and networks", the State Department said in a statement. SDF has captured wide areas from IS since then, under the cover of airstrikes by the US -led coalition.

Turkey ultimate intention in pressuring Manbij may be to keep the SDF out of the Raqqa offensive.

Maintaining peace between the groups in Manbij will be crucial if they will work together in the battle for Raqqa.

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