An alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters have seized more than a dozen villages in eastern Syria in their drive to encircle the Islamic State group bastion of Raqa.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) made a major incursion into the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor as part of their push for Raqa, field commander Dejwar Khabat said.
"Our aim is to cut the road to Raqa and besiege IS... We have liberated 15 villages," Khabat said Tuesday in the town of Makmaneh, which lies on a major highway approximately 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Raqa city.
He said the IS was dispatching suicide bombers but had not been able to slow the offensive.
SDF fighters on Tuesday set up their base on a hilltop in Makmaneh, digging trenches around it to prevent suicide bombers or car bombs from reaching them.
Backed by air strikes from the U.S.-led coalition, the SDF has seized swathes of territory in northern Syria from the jihadists.
It launched its offensive for Raqa -- the de facto Syrian capital of IS' so-called caliphate -- in early November.