BEIRUT – Syrian Kurdish and rebel forces, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, advanced Thursday into Raqqa province, where the jihadi Islamic State group has its de facto capital, a monitor said.
“The YPG (Kurdish People’s Protection Units) and rebel forces captured 19 villages in Raqqa province,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The U.S.-led international coalition played a key role in the advance, bombing the IS (Islamic State) positions and forcing its fighters to withdraw,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
The advance comes as Kurdish and rebel forces push outward from the border town of Kobani, from which they expelled Islamic State forces after more than four months of fighting.
Since driving Islamic State out of Kobani on Jan. 26, Kurdish and allied forces have taken much of the surrounding countryside in northern Aleppo province and begun pushing east into neighboring Raqqa province.
They have captured some 242 villages around Kobani, including the 19 in Raqqa province, according to the Observatory.
They are now 25 km (15 miles) from Tal Abyad, another Kurdish-majority border town overrun by Islamic State.
Located 65 km east of Kobani, the town is used by Islamic State fighters to cross into Turkey.