At least 11 civilians have been killed as US-backed militants make their first major incursion into the Syrian province of Dayr al-Zawr.
The so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militants, entered Dayr al-Zawr on Tuesday as part of their operations aimed at liberating the Daesh-held city of Raqqah.
"Our aim is to cut the road to Raqqah and besiege Daesh... We have liberated 15 villages,” said SDF field commander Dejwar Khabat.
He added the SDF had set up their base on a fortified hill in Makmaneh, which is located some 100 kilometers from Raqqah -- Daesh’s stronghold in Syria.
"We have entered the first villages of Dayr al-Zawr province," said another SDF commander Abu Khawlah. "Our entry into Dayr al-Zawr was a big surprise (for Daesh), and there will be more surprises coming," he added.
The SDF launched its campaign to capture Raqqah in November 2016 and took control of some areas up the Euphrates Valley.
The US-led coalition says it is working with the SDF to try to defeat Daesh in the militant-riddled Syrian city. However, there have been numerous reports of US-led airstrikes targeting Syrian civilians, military and infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 11 people were killed in airstrikes in a Daesh-held village in Dayr al-Zawr.
"The death toll could rise because there are at least 35 people wounded, some of them in critical condition," said the UK-based monitoring group’s director, Rami Abdel Rahman.
Nearly two-thirds of the 30,000 SDF militants belong to the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a "terrorist" group. Although the US insists that it only provides military support to the Arab components of the SDF, Turkey has been enraged by Washington’s support for the group.
- Syrian troops, allies inflict heavy losses on Takfiri militants
US military aid halted: FSA
Meanwhile, the FSA has reported that the CIA has cut off their military aid after the group was attacked by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham terrorist group, formerly known as al-Nusra Front, last month.
Militant officials said that there has been no official explanation for the move, but several said it is probably linked to preventing arms and cash falling into the hands of Daesh and other Takfiri terrorist groups. The US supports the militant group by supplying salaries, training, ammunition, and anti-tank missiles via coordination through Qatar, Turkey, and Saud Arabia.
"The reality is that you have changes in the area, and these changes inevitably have repercussions," said a FSA official. He added that no aid could "enter at present until matters are organized. There is a new arrangement but nothing has crystallized yet."
Syria has been battling foreign-backed militancy for nearly six years. Over the past few months, the Syrian army has made significant gains against terrorists, including the liberation of the strategic city of Aleppo in late 2016.