WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Monday a flurry of U.S. air strikes around Raqqa, Syria, over the weekend were aimed at disrupting the ability of Islamic State rebels to respond to ground advances by Syrian Kurdish forces north of the city.
The U.S.-led coalition, in an apparent shift in targeting, hit the capital of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate with 18 air strikes on Saturday, destroying 16 bridges as well as tactical units and vehicles.
Carter, speaking at a news conference with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, said the air strikes were aimed at limiting Islamic State’s “freedom of movement and ability to counter those capable Kurdish forces” that have made advances in northern Syria.
“That’s the manner in which effective and lasting defeat of ISIL will occur, when there are effective local forces on the ground that we can support and enable so that they can take territory, hold territory and make sure good governance comes in behind it,” Carter said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
Fighters led by the Kurdish YPG group have gained control of a swath of territory near the Turkish border from the Iraqi frontier to just west of the Syrian town of Kobani.
As part of that advance, they have captured of the town of Tel Abyad, cutting the highway between Raqqa and Turkey to the north and curbing the flow of foreign fighters to Islamic State, U.S. defense officials have said.
Kurdish forces also moved south toward Raqqa, seizing the town of Ain Issa. But a Syrian monitoring group said the town had been recaptured by Islamic State in fighting on Monday. U.S. defense officials could not immediately confirm that.
Reporting by David Alexander and Idrees Ali; Editing by Will Dunham and Alan Crosby