Islamic State Regains Areas Lost to Syrian Government

This undated file image posted on a militant website on Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State in Raqqa, Syria. Militant site via AP
This undated file image posted on a militant website on Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State in Raqqa, Syria. Militant site via AP

BEIRUT — The Islamic State group has retaken large areas in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa that the extremists recently lost to government troops, opposition activists and the group's news agency reported Tuesday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces have lost all the territory they gained in Raqqa province since launching their offensive on June 2.

Syrian troops have been on the offensive for nearly three weeks and approached to within 7 kilometers (4 miles) of the Tabqa air base near Raqqa city, the de facto capital of the IS group's self-declared caliphate. The Observatory said Syrian troops have been pushed back now to about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Tabqa.

IS has been under pressure in Iraq, Syria and Libya in recent weeks, but the gains in Raqqa show it is still able to take on Syrian troops backed by Russian warplanes. The extremist group has used massive suicide bombings to break through its opponents' ranks.

The Syrian government has had no presence in Raqqa since August 2014, when IS captured the Tabqa air base and killed scores of captured government soldiers. The provincial capital, Raqqa, was the first city to fall to IS.

The IS-linked Aamaq news agency posted a video showing the extremists in control of Thawra oil field as warplanes strike nearby. Government forces had seized the field on Sunday only to lose it hours later.

Syrian journalist Eyad al-Hosain, who is embedded with the army, wrote on his Facebook page that even if special forces "retreat for hours they will come back." He added that after two days of fierce battles, the army had to withdraw from "some" of the positions it captured recently.

Al-Hosain added that the march toward Tabqa is ongoing but will take on "new dimensions," without elaborating.

The Observatory said 40 troops were killed over the past two days, raising to 93 the number of troops killed since the offensive began. It added that 126 IS militants have been killed in the area so far, including 21 since Sunday.

The Observatory said IS has brought reinforcements of some 300 fighters from the city of Raqqa.

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