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Kurdish fighters make gains north of Islamic State's capital in Syria

Kurdish forces near the Turkish border captured 18 villages on Friday, followed by 12 on Saturday.

By Fred Lambert
Kurdish fighters make gains north of Islamic State's capital in Syria
Kurdish forces in Syria, known as the YPG, claim to have captured dozens of villages from IS forces between Suluk, which it has besieged, and Tell Abiad, where IS fighters were forced to blow up two bridges during a rapid withdrawal. Suluk is about 50 miles north of Raqqa, which is considered the IS capital. Image from Google Maps.

SULUK, Syria, June 14 (UPI) -- Kurdish forces over the weekend reportedly seized dozens of villages north of Raqqa, Syria, considered the capital of the Islamic State.

Backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and Arab rebel forces, including the Free Syrian Army, Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units, also known as the YPG, recaptured 12 towns from IS forces on Saturday.

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A YPG statement indicates the Kurds recaptured the towns of Dardo, Razaki, Qalaj, Rafah, Quneitara, Khuwaitla, Dara, Ranim, and four other villages as well as eight surrounding farms.

"Our units (YPG) continue their military operations near the IS-held town of Suluk, during which they clashed with IS terrorists in the southern and northwestern suburbs of Suluk town, causing heavy losses in the group's ranks and liberating several new villages and farms," the statement, obtained by ARA News, reads.

According to the YPG, nine IS militants and two Kurds died in the fighting.

One day prior, YPG forces reportedly recaptured 18 villages and eight farms from IS forces in the countryside north of Raqqa.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group that collects information from ground sources in the country, confirmed the Kurdish gains, reporting that the YPG had advanced and gained about 20 villages in the region between Suluk and Tell Abiad, a town on the Turkish border about 12 miles to the northwest.

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Retreating IS fighters blew up two bridges south of Tell Abiad in order to slow the YPG advance, according to SOHR. IS fighters have largely withdrawn from the town; about 150 remain but said they would retreat if not reinforced. The loss of Tell Abiad would deprive IS forces of a supply route for weapons and foreign fighters flowing in from Turkey.

Additionally, YPG forces have reportedly besieged IS militants in the town of Suluk. A source informed SOHR that, through intercepted wireless communications, a commander among the trapped extremists was recorded warning a possible IS relief force not to attempt a rescue because of the danger posed by coalition airstrikes.

Raqqa, considered the IS capital, is about 50 miles south of Suluk.

Last week a 36-year-old American man was reported killed fighting alongside YPG forces against IS militants near Kobani, 55 miles northwest of Suluk. Kurdish forces captured the town from IS forces in January after months of heavy fighting.

The Kurdish gains come after last month's IS advances farther south at the ruins of Palmyra.

Earlier this month, SOHR estimated that more than 320,000 people have been killed in the Syrian Civil War since 2011.

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