Beirut: The Daesh group has imposed an “Afghan-style” dress code on men in its Syrian stronghold Raqqa to help its fighters blend into the civilian population, a monitor and activists said on Monday.
“For more than two weeks, Afghan-style clothing ... has been imposed by Daesh,” said Abu Mohammad, an activist with the “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” group.
“Anyone who does not comply faces prison and fine,” he told AFP.
The new restriction comes as a Kurdish-Arab alliance of fighters nears Raqqa, backed by the US-led coalition launching air strikes against Daesh.
The rule “is an attempt to make it harder for airplanes and the Kurdish forces ... to distinguish between civilians and Daesh members,” Abu Mohammad said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, also reported the new rule in Raqqa.
“The Islamic State [Daesh] has imposed Afghan-style dress on residents of Raqqa so that informants giving coordinates to the US-led coalition will not be able to distinguish between civilians and fighters,” Observatory director Rami Abdul Rahman said.
Abu Mohammad said there was a “state of alert” in Raqqa, with new checkpoints springing up and Daesh arresting anyone who describes the situation as dire.
“Prices are skyrocketing and there is no electricity or water,” he said.
The Observatory also said civilians and the families of Daesh families were attempting to flee into Raqqa province from neighbouring Aleppo, where Daesh is under assault in the east.
“Thousands of families in recent days have tried to reach the administrative borders of Raqqa province, along with around 120 families of fighters and commanders of Daesh,” the monitor said.
The Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces alliance advancing towards Raqqa on Monday cut a key supply route between the city and Daesh-held territory in Deir Al Zor province to the east.
The alliance is now eight kilometres from Raqqa to the northeast, according to the Observatory.
It said Daesh was preventing civilians from entering the province “but granted families of its fighters” a document allowing “passage to Raqqa city by boat as ground transportation is now impossible because the bridges across the Euphrates have been destroyed”.
Fighters from the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces have been on the offensive under the cover of US-led coalition air strikes since November. Operation Euphrates Wrath aims to surround and capture Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Daesh’s so-called caliphate.
The SDF began the third phase of Euphrates Wrath last month with the aim of capturing villages and towns east of Raqqa.
The blockade of the main road comes amid an ongoing SDF march toward Raqqa” its fighters are now stationed eight kilometres north of the Euphrates River city and supported by both coalition air strikes and a deployment of some 500 US special forces operators. The Pentagon has said its soldiers are working in a purely advisory capacity.
But Turkey, a US ally through Nato, views the Kurdish militia known as the YPG — the main component of the SDF — as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency inside its own borders and has classified the party as a terror organisation. It has objected strongly to the SDF offensive and also vowed to repel the Kurdish-led forces in the town of Manbij back over the banks of the Euphrates, a move that would disrupt the Raqqa campaign.
There are Turkish forces stationed in Al Bab, 40 kilometres southwest of Manbij. The Turkish threats prompted the SDF to ask Russia and the Syrian army to establish a buffer between them and the Turkish forces.
With uncertainty building, the US deployed a number of armoured vehicles to its allies in Manbij, the Syrian Kurdish Rudaw news agency reported Saturday.
Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. John Dorrian confirmed the deployment on Twitter. He said it was mean to “deter aggression and keep focus on defeating Daesh.”