Published: Tue, June 27, 2017
Global Media | By Meredith Barber

Mattis: US arms for Syrian Kurds will continue after Raqqa

Mattis: US arms for Syrian Kurds will continue after Raqqa

The strip of the Euphrates River Valley that runs through northeastern Syria has turned into one of the last Islamic State redoubts following the group's near-defeat in the Iraqi city of Mosul and the USA -led operation to encircle its stronghold in Raqqa.

After launching an assault three months ago, the SDF has pushed ISIL from large areas of northern Syria over the past 18 months.

The U.S. -backed coalition has supported SDF advances against the jihadist group throughout the Raqqa campaign with artillery and air strikes, including some against Islamic State leaders.

The report of the gains comes on the same day that US -led Iraqi government troops reported major advances against ISIS in Mosul, the group's capital in Iraq and its last stronghold in that country.

Turkey was infuriated by a United States decision last month to arm the YPG, which the USA sees as a vital ally in the battle against ISIL.

The youngest of the prisoners pardoned was 14 years old, according to the Reuters news agency.

Candies were handed out on trays in the sweltering heat, in what officials hoped would be the start of a new chapter in the men's lives.

The communication channels between the United States and Russia, Mattis said, have helped USA forces stay "focused" on fighting the Islamic State and have kept the United States from a widening role in the six-year-old conflict that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions.

"We would never release senior Daesh officials or anyone who has blood on their hands", Omar Aloush, a senior member of the Raqqa Civil Council, told Reuters.

The council member added that the former IS members, some of whom had surrendered, would be integrated into society and given a chance to attend schools.

Speeches were followed by applause from all sides. "I mean, it's not like the fight's over when Raqqa's over".

"There were no opportunities before they arrived", he said.

The amnesty may be one small step towards easing tensions that run deep in Raqqa after three years of ruthless ISIL occupation, followed by war. The men walked past council members and shook their hands, before tasting freedom and reuniting with their families.

Abdel Rahman Kalas, 43, worked in the Islamic State department that imposed taxes on Raqqa citizens. "They paid me $115 a month".

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