US-backed alliance begins operation to capture Islamic State group's Syrian capital
A US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters has begun a long-awaited operation to capture the so-called Islamic State group's de facto Syrian capital Raqqa.
The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) said only its troops will take part in the offensive. It said the US would coordinate with it to provide air cover.
In a press conference in the Syrian town of Ain Issa, SDF commanders said the goal of the operation, called Angry Euphrates, would be liberating Raqqa from the militants.
The Syrian YPG Kurdish force is one of the most powerful militias in Syria and regarded as the backbone of SDF.
The operation comes as Iraqi forces backed by a US-led coalition press an assault to take the jihadist group's Iraqi stronghold of Mosul.
Meanwhile, suicide bombers driving ambulances packed with explosives detonated their vehicles at a checkpoint and a car park for Shia pilgrims in two Iraqi cities on Sunday, killing at least 21 people and wounding dozens, officials said.
The twin attacks took place in Tikrit and Samarra, as Iraqi troops and security forces battled to retake the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants who have controlled it for more than two years.
They appeared to be part of a series of diversionary attacks by the ultra-hardline Sunni Islamists, who have struck the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk, the capital Baghdad and a western desert town during the three-week Mosul campaign.
Islamic State’s Amaq news agency said the attacks were carried out by the militant group.