Oct 09 2017 - 11:47
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REPORT: Fighters on Raqqa front line brace for final showdown with Islamic State

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In the gutted four-story building that he and five other U.S.-backed fighters have turned into a front-line fortress, Babel can peer out at Islamic State positions just 150 meters away.

The jihadist militants expected to make a last stand for this stronghold of their self-proclaimed caliphate are cornered and desperate here in Raqqa, the city on the Euphrates river that has served as their de-facto Syrian capital since 2014.
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"Let Daesh come - we're ready for them. We have explosives to drop downstairs," said Babel, which is his nom de guerre. He and his fellow members of the U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces have occupied the front-line building for three weeks and are now preparing for a final showdown with Islamic State, the group also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh.

The SDF fighters' position is well prepared in case the cornered IS militants attempt an attack. The front porch steps have been demolished, leaving a drop to the basement that can be crossed only by climbing a section of iron fence - a makeshift ladder, which the defenders can pull up. Inside, plastic bottles have been strewn across the floor to squeak when stepped on and alert them to intruders.

After months of intense fighting and heavy U.S. bombardment, the SDF have surrounded Islamic State militants in a small part of the city. As the Kurdish and Arab militias of the SDF close in and U.S.-led air raids increase, they expect fierce fighting to mark the final stages of the campaign.

"Daesh regularly launch small raids, even behind our position. Yesterday they attacked the building opposite and tried to push towards us. We killed a few and they retreated to the hospital," Babel said.

SDF units have a clear view over the Raqqa hospital, one of Islamic State's last strongholds in the city, from a line of buildings they occupy to its northwest. Apartment blocks between them and the hospital have been flattened by air strikes.

Commanders say the hospital and a nearby stadium, where the jihadists are said to be holding civilian hostages, will be where they make their last stand.

Babel's unit are holding the front line ahead of an anticipated final push, firing at militants whenever they can spot them.

"The last few nights they've been shining spotlights from the hospital towards our lines, so we can't really see," he said.

Another fighter in the unit said sniper fire from Islamic State had recently reduced, possibly as a means of conserving ammunition for more intense fighting to come.
 
 
 
REUTERS
 
 
 
To watch the full report, please click on the video above.


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