Kurdish forces advance towards ISIS capital

Syrian Kurdish forces, backed by US air-strikes, advanced Feb. 19 into Raqqa governorate, where ISIS has its de facto capital at the provincial seat. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Kurdish YPG forces and allied FSA units captured 19 villages in Raqqa. "The US-led international coalition played a key role in the advance, bombing the IS positions and forcing its fighters to withdraw," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman. Since driving ISIS fom Kobani (Aleppo governorate) last month, Kurdish and allied forces have captured some 242 villages from ISIS, including the 19 in Raqqa. Among the contested areas is the border town of Tal Abyad. The YPG charges that ISIS forces at Tal Abyad cross into Turkey, where they have established a staging territory. (AFP-JIJI, Feb. 20)

Ironically, the news comes just as Washington and Ankara have struck deal bringing Turkey into the US-led anti-ISIS coalition. Under the deal, the US and Turkey are to jointly train and equip Syrian rebel forces (presumably excluding the YPG). (Middle East Eye, Feb. 19)

The US also announced that it is preparing a joint force of Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi army troops, totalling some 25,000 fighters, to retake Mosul from ISIS. The operation is currently expected to be launched by May. (BBC News, Feb. 19)