Starting about two weeks ago, a new campaign was launched to put the substantially weakened Islamic State on the defensive: in the south, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Popular Mobilization, and Sunni tribal fighters have closed in on a multiple-axis assault to encircle the city of Fallujah. As we reported previously, Iraqi forces, together with Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Shi'ite Muslim militias, and Sunni tribal fighters, backed by U.S.-led coalition forces, have pushed on toward Fallujah after recapturing several key cities in the past year, including Ramadi, Tikrit, and Baiji. Here, the advance has been problematic however as Aljazeera reported earlier today, fighters battling to retake Fallujah say they have secured its southern edge and have almost completely encircled the whole Iraqi city.
A leader of the Iran-backed Shia coalition taking part in the offensive said on Sunday the only side of Fallujah that remained to be secured by pro-Baghdad forces was part of the western bank of the Euphrates. "We are now at the gates of Fallujah," Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy leader of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, told a news conference broadcast on state TV. As reported previously, in a curious twist, it was in the Fallujah offensive that a familiar to Zero Hedge readers face has re-emerged, that of Iran's notorious Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force, the external operations wing of the Revolutionary Guards.
Indeed, as the ISW reports, Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi'a militias maintain a steady presence in northern Fallujah, where reports have surfaced of abuses against Sunni populations. Several local sources claim that Popular Mobilization fighters destroyed the Great Mosque in Garma while chanting sectarian slogans and vowing to kill residents. Sources claimed that militias prevented the Sunni Waqf head from entering Garma to organize Friday prayers, have looted homes and factories around Garma, and arrested civilians. A notable tribal sheikh in Garma claimed that Popular Mobilization militants kidnapped 73 men from Garma District and executed 17 of them on charges of belonging to ISIS. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, however, criticized media outlets for distorting the truth and inciting sectarianism through false reporting on events in Fallujah.
And while the battle for Fallujah continues, a far more important battle is taking place in the northeast, where TV channel al-Mayadin reports that Syrian troops have crossed into Raqqa province for the first time in nearly two years and are nearing the ISIS capital of Raqqa, a city seized by the Islamic State in 2013 from rebels opposed to al-Assad.
According to BBC, heavy Russian air strikes have helped the offensive which was started by an alliance of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters in May. As Sputnik adds, the troops crossed the administrative border of the province, capturing the strategic town of Zakia, which is an important transportation hub in the region. Some units of the Syrian army moved by approximately 10 kilometers and are now advancing towards the city of Tabqa, which has a vital military airfield.
Earlier, it was reported that the Syrian Army launched a large-scale offensive on June 3 to liberate the city of Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the Daesh caliphate.
According to retired Syrian Major General Sabet Muhammad, the operation started in the town of Isriya, in Hama province, nearly 140 km to the west of Raqqa. "Preparations for the operation lasted many days. Several thousand troops were deployed to Isriya. The forces have several interim objectives, including the town of al-Thawrah, a military airfield as well as the town of Resafa. These positions will be used for an assault on Raqqa," he said.
In February and March, the Syrian Army made an attempt to carry out an attack on Raqqa. After a series of clashes with militants the attack was suspended and the Syrian Army began their offensive on Palmyra.
Upon its liberation, a representative of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Iraqi Kurdistan, Gharib Hassou, told RIA that Raqqa will become a part of the Federal Democratic System of Rojava and Northern Syria.
— RT (@RT_com) June 4, 2016
As we await the biggest battle of the ISIS war yet, that for the capital of the Islamic State, RT has unveiled recently released aerial footage showing the Syrian Army making gains into the Raqqa province as forces loyal to the President Bashar Assad continue their assault. The drone footage, released on Saturday, demonstrates the swift advance of Syrian government troops into Raqqa province.
The video shows army vehicles, including tanks and missile launchers, taking positions on Thursday after claiming victory over IS militants at the Zakiyah Crossroad, a strategic area at the border between Hama and Raqqa provinces. Syrian forces reportedly advanced over 35 kilometers (21.7 miles) towards Raqqa within two days, while driving the rebels before them, in an offensive backed by Russian air strikes.
Another video shows the Syrian army launching missiles at militant positions, as Syrian troops prepare to press their offensive forward.
Despite the rapid initial advance, strategists say that as the Syrian army approaches the ISIS capital, the battle for Raqqa will be fierce and protracted. And, courtesy of modern technology, we expect most of it to be televised in real time courtesy of drone footage such as that shown above, a feat that has now made CNN's trademark war coverage obsolete.