Syrian Forces to Push Into IS Capital

BEIRUT (AP) -- A U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish force expects to push on and capture the Islamic State group's de facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria this summer, a commander said Friday.

The Syrian Democratic Forces have been buoyed by this week's capture of the key town of Tabqa and its nearby dam. The advance left no significant IS-held urban settlements between SDF lines and Raqqa, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) to the east.

An SDF commander, identified only as Abdelqader, declined to specify dates at a news conference, citing tactical reasons. He said the battle for Raqqa would begin once the group receives heavy weapons from the U.S. military.

The announcement was a snub to Turkey, which doesn't want the Syrian Kurdish-led force to take Raqqa and has offered its own troops instead. Ankara is also enraged by U.S. plans to arm the Syrian Kurds, who they consider terrorists.

But the SDF made clear it is capable enough with the forces and support it already has.

"We do not want any other forces to participate with us," said Abdelqader.

"They can solve their problems in their country," he said, in reference to Turkey.

Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced it would arm the Kurdish elements of the SDF. Ankara said the plan was "unacceptable" and a threat to its national security.

Turkey says the fighters are an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to convince Trump to reverse his administration's decision in a meeting between the two leaders at the White House next week.

Also at the news conference inside Tabqa on Friday, the SDF announced it would hand over the administration of the town to civilian administrators.

(KA)