The commander of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group says the Kurdish offensive on the Syrian city of Raqqa is aiming at cutting off the extremists from the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Lt. Gen. Townsend said in a statement on Monday that the coalition is providing air support to the Syria Democratic Forces carrying out the push toward Raqqa, the de facto IS capital.

The SDF is a Kurdish-led coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters.

Townsend says the Arab element of the SDF is indigenous to the area and will help establish “regional support” for SDF operations.

His comments appeared to be aimed at soothing Turkey’s concerns that Syrian Kurdish forces would take over Raqqa, a predominantly Sunni Arab city.


2:30 p.m.

Turkey has criticized an operation by U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian fighters to free the city of Raqqa in Syria from the Islamic State group.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus says the use of non-Arab forces — a reference to the Kurds — to liberate Raqqa will not contribute to peace.

Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish militia to be a terror organization, claiming it is an extension of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdish rebels. Ankara also fears the Syrian Kurds will take over Raqqa and change its demographic makeup.

Kurtulmus says Turkey would not like to see “Raqqa, which is an Arab city in its entirety, to be captured by elements that are not Arabs and to be administered by them.”

He spoke after a Cabinet meeting on Monday. The Turkish official also added that “legitimacy cannot be obtained through a terror organization brandishing arms” and that the “United States will sooner or later see this reality.”


1:50 p.m.

The U.S. Central Command says aircraft of the American-led coalition have conducted 16 airstrikes in northern Syria, where Kurdish-led forces have launched an offensive aiming to liberate the city of Raqqa, the Islamic State group’s de facto capital.

Monday’s command statement says the strikes hit near the Ein Issa area, north of Raqqa, and that they engaged 12 IS tactical units and destroyed six fighting positions, five vehicles and two vehicles rigged with explosives.

It says the airstrikes were conducted on Sunday, the day when a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters known as the Syria Democratic Forces said they have started the march to liberate Raqqa.

Activists and SDF reported intense clashes on Monday north of Raqqa.


1:30 p.m.

U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian fighters are clashing with Islamic State militants north of Raqqa in Syria, a day after announcing the start of a campaign to liberate the city from the extremist group.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says fighting was underway on Monday north of Raqqa between IS and members of a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters known as the Syria Democratic Forces.

SDF says its fighters destroyed a vehicle rigged with explosives in a farm north of Raqqa, de IS de facto capital.

The IS-linked Aamaq news agency says IS militants hit an SDF armored vehicle north of Raqqa with a missile, killing everyone inside.

The United States, France and Britain have said they would provide air support for the Kurdish forces’ offensive on Raqqa.