The much-awaited announcement came in on Tuesday morning: the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have launched the offensive part of an operation to retake the city of Raqqa from the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists.
In November, the SDF started their march on Raqqa with the immediate goal to surround the city. The U.S.-led coalition underscored the importance of a timely advance since the terrorists have been using their de-facto capital to plan operations abroad.
“The International Coalition and our partner forces are steadily dismantling the physical caliphate of ISIS,” Coalition Commander Lt. Gen. Steven Townsend said in a statement confirming the beginning of the advance.
One coalition member, Turkey, has been negotiating a more active role in the campaign for months. However, it has become apparent that Ankara was not able to move past the Syrian Kurds participation in the Raqqa fight.
The U.S. has long hailed the Kurdish fighters as one of the most effective forces in the anti-ISIS campaign. Meanwhile, Turkey proclaimed the People’s Protection Units (YPG) that fight within the SDF a terror group because of their links to the Kurdistan People’s Party (PKK), outlawed by Ankara.
When asked about the Turkish participation in the Raqqa operation, a coalition spokesperson told The Globe Post that “the SDF and SAC [Syrian Arab Coalition], partnered with enabling support from Coalition forces, are the only forces on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqah in the time required.”
The coalition intends to continue assisting the Syrian Democratic Forces and its Arabic component, the Syrian Arab Coalition, during the offensive. The fighters will be enabled with equipment, training and intelligence support.
US Department of Defense spokesperson Capt. Jeff Davis said in a briefing on Tuesday that “hundreds” of US advisers, along with Apache helicopters and artillery are aiding the SDF.
“We have there assisting in this battle Marine M777 Howitzers, which are providing a significant enabling capability to our Special Operations Forces and partners on the ground. We are also employing AH-64 Apaches,” he noted. “The Marines are providing the artillery support, supplement close air support…[and] all weather fire support capability.”
Mr. Davis added that the U.S. continues to consult “very closely” with Turkey.
“Turkey is a part of the coalition, and the coalition is supporting the SDF in retaking Raqqa,” he said. “We are sensitive to their interests with regards to what we are doing with the Syrian Kurds.”
On Sunday, prior to the official announcement of the offensive, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the U.S. informed Turkey about the launch of the next phase in the Raqqa fight.
“They [Washington] told us that it [cooperation with the Kurds] was not an option but an obligation and that the tactical cooperation with them would not be maintained for long after the [Raqqa] operation,” Mr. Yildirim stated.
The SDF previously said that once Raqqa is free from ISIS, the city would be turned over to a representative body of local civilians.
The Pentagon and the U.S. State Department have both said the Raqqa offensive would be long and difficult, but it would deliver a major blow to the very idea of ISIS.
“It’s hard to convince new recruits that ISIS is a winning cause when they just lost their twin ‘capitals’ in both Iraq and Syria,” Mr. Townsend said.
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