U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at Hillary for America campaign event in Kissimmee, Florida, U.S., Nov. 6, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
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Although a U.S.-backed alliance of Syrian armed groups announced the kickoff of the offensive Sunday, U.S. officials caution the fighters will first try to seal off and isolate the ISIS stronghold, a process that could take two months or longer.U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. military officer, played down the idea that seizing Raqqa would be quick or easy, saying the first job was sealing off the city.The U.S. plan for Raqqa calls for an assault force of thousands of fighters from the Kurdish Peoples Defense Units, known as the YPG, and Arabs whose job it would be to take and hold the city itself, U.S. officials said.However, U.S. special operations forces in northern Syria have yet to recruit enough Arabs to take and hold the Arab-dominated city, they said. Some U.S. officials and experts doubt that the United States will be able to soon field an Arab force large and strong to defeat thousands of ISIS militants who have had months to prepare a final stand.For now, the Turkey-backed force has stopped short of al Bab, which is about 30 kilometers from the Turkish border, U.S. officials said.
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