By Oliviero Reusser
Raqqah - During midday of July 6th, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the US-led coalition to counter ISIS, managed to enter the al-Mahdi neighborhood within the old Abbasid walls of Raqqa city. The clashes inside the city have been raging for atleast a month now and several neighborhoods on the eastern and western outskirts have been captured. The city is completely surrounded after the SDF took control of most of the villages located on the southern bank of the river.
In a statement released on the 4th of July, two days ago as of this writing, the US-led Anti-ISIS coalition confirmed bombing two locations of the old Abbasid walls in order to obstruct ISIS plans to use them as major defensive positions and to reduce civilian and SDF casualties. The SDF subsequently entered the old city in two different locations and is still advancing there. The map below shows the current areas of control in Raqqah city. Note that many exact circumstances and captures remain unconfirmed.
The SDF has made significant advances into the western and eastern outskirts, as can be seen on the map. Today, they advanced into the city center and reportedly surrounded the great Mosque, located in the middle of the map. News of its full capture are expected soon. A geolocation by twitter user of an ISIS SVBIED launched on the 5th July confirms the advance of the SDF into the Hisham Abdulmalik neighborhood, located in the southwestern part of the city.
The number of airstrikes in the map above has been relatively constant so far and is now ramping up slowly; there has been a significant increase of strikes in the last few days. The casualty estimate reflect the death counts reported by SDF commanders to local media and the statements shared by Amaq agency, the semi-official ISIS news outlet. Both of these are probably not fully accurate and only guesses can be made to the full numbers. Normally, the attacking side (SDF in this case) takes a way higher casualty toll. However it is possible that, due to air superiority and ISIS's fighting style, its casualty numbers have actually been lower. In a balance sheet published by the YPG (and YPJ), the mainly kurdish milita leading the battle of Raqqa and the biggest component of the SDF, they claim that 84 YPG fighters died and 542 ISIS fighters were killed. Keeping in mind that the YPG only makes out one part of all the forces fighting as SDF in Raqqah, this does give us a rough impression of the intensity of fighting in Raqqa. Assuming atleast a 1000 casualties on both sides so far, this would mean about 30 fighters get killed on both sides every day. This number is likely to be higher.
The next goals of the SDF will be to keep advancing and securing the old city aswell as the southern river bank. It is possible that during their advance, they will create major pockets of areas or neighborhoods in order to isolate them and speed up their capture.