ERBIL - Western-backed Syrian forces should isolate Islamic State's de facto capital in Syria "by the spring" before an offensive on the city itself, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said on Saturday.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, which includes the powerful Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, launched the campaign on Raqqa in November.
It announced this month the start of a new phase in the offensive, aiming to complete its encirclement of the city and cut off the road to the militants' stronghold in Deir al-Zor, southeast of Raqqa.
"I hope that isolation will be completed by the spring and then operations to liberate Raqqa itself can begin thereafter," Fallon told reporters in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq.
Islamic State is fighting hard to preserve its foothold in Syria as it loses ground in Iraq.