ISIS Anti-terror fighters near Raqa delight in American weaponry

Chorche was like a kid in a candy store in front of crates packed with US weapons to help an Arab-Kurdish alliance take the Islamic State group's Syria bastion Raqa.

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SDF fighters unload boxes of ammunition supplied by the US-led coalition in a village north of Raqa on June 7, 2017 play

SDF fighters unload boxes of ammunition supplied by the US-led coalition in a village north of Raqa on June 7, 2017

(AFP)
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Chorche was like a kid in a candy store in front of crates packed with US weapons to help an Arab-Kurdish alliance take the Islamic State group's Syria bastion Raqa.

"We're going to rain these sophisticated weapons down on Daesh (IS)," said the member of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters.

The SDF entered Raqa on Tuesday after seven months of fighting to cut off the jihadist stronghold in northern Syria.

Since then, fierce fighting has rocked parts of the city, where an AFP correspondent saw SDF fighters armed mostly with light weapons and mortars battle the jihadists.

SDF fighters unload boxes of ammunition supplied by the US-led coalition in a village north of Raqa on June 7, 2017 play

SDF fighters unload boxes of ammunition supplied by the US-led coalition in a village north of Raqa on June 7, 2017

(AFP)

In May, US President Donald Trump approved the arming of the Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG), who dominate the alliance, to support the assault on Raqa.

In the village of Shanine, seven kilometres (four miles) northeast of Raqa, young fighters wearing camouflage with a yellow badge and the red YPG star as shoulder patches emptied a truck laden with green crates.

The boxes, packed with mortar rounds and other equipment, were then stored in a warehouse where one fighter inspected them carefully "to make sure nothing is missing".

Soldiers from the US-led coalition fighting IS in Syria and neighbouring Iraq sat in armoured vehicles in an olive grove in Shanine.

Their vehicles were covered in camouflage tarp, and the soldiers shielded their eyes behind sunglasses.

Tough battle ahead

Another group of coalition soldiers was positioned on the rooftop of a nearby house to monitor the combat in Raqa using binoculars.

On Wednesday, an AFP journalist entered the city with the SDF and saw heavy clashes in the Al-Meshleb neighbourhood in the east of the city.

Some 500 US military personnel, not all of them special forces, are believed to be participating in the battle for Raqa.

"We send our fighters to train with the (US-led) coalition and once they are done they will be able to use the arms we have received in the battle for Raqa," said SDF female commander Engizek Khalil.

"They also supplied us individual weapons and other types of weapons," she said, adding that more is expected to be delivered.

The battle for Raqa is expected to be tough.

The jihadists have dug in since they captured the city in 2014.

If they lose Raqa, their dream of a "caliphate" straddling the border with neighbouring Iraq will disappear.

Ever since the SDF launched their offensive on Raqa, they have learned to master the methods that their enemies use.

"Their methods are always the same in every battle. They lay mines and use snipers and drones equipped with explosives," Engizek said.

'A good weapon'

SDF fighter Jekdar Kobani proudly held up a 60 mm mortar round.

"It's a good weapon. The American forces trained us," he said.

"It was tough at first because these are modern and sophisticated weapons, but now we know how to use them and they are very useful in combat."

Heavy clubs are also prized on the battlefront, and several were piled up against the wall of a house.

Fighters use the clubs to knock through the interior walls of houses so they can advance through buildings without being spotted by snipers or drones.

Closer to the battlefield of Raqa, the scene is one of destruction.

Bridges have been knocked out by US-led coalition air raids to prevent IS from using them as a way of sending suicide bombers.

Two kilometres from Raqa, the SDF occupied a house to use as a staging point for fighters going up the line or returning from combat, as well as a weapons distribution centre.

A wounded SDF fighter receives treatment after combat near the Al-Meshleb neighbourhood of Raqa on June 7, 2017 play

A wounded SDF fighter receives treatment after combat near the Al-Meshleb neighbourhood of Raqa on June 7, 2017

(AFP)

One man who had been hit by a shrapnel in the leg was being treated there by a fellow fighter.

"Our comrades move slowly, step by step," said female commander Zaghros Qamishlo.

"The main difficulties we face are walls and other obstacles that our enemy has built. They also use mortar fire to stop our vehicles from advancing.

"But coalition aircraft help us and hit them relentlessly. Since Tuesday they've carried out 50 air strikes on their positions," she added.

The SDF took a group of journalists inside Al-Meshleb aboard a pick-up truck.

"Hurry! Get inside the house! There's incoming," shouted one fighter, after hearing a projectile being fired.

Seconds later the mortar round hit near the building.

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