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Operation Euphrates Rage

Kurdish-led Syrian forces, backed by US air power and military advisers, launched Operation Euphrates Rage 06 Novemer 2016, an offensive to gain control of Raqqa, the northern Syrian city overrun by Islamic State extremists in 2014 and self-designated as the center of extremist rule. The Syrian city of Raqqa, home to approximately 200,000 people, has been under Daesh control since January 2014. It has been viewed as the capital of the terrorist group's caliphate spanning across large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq. Some of Daesh's senior leaders as well as about 5,000 militants are believed to be currently staying in Raqqa. The city's liberation has been viewed as key to degrading and eventually destroying the brutal group.

A total of 30,000 fighters are said to be taking part in the operation. A commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the start of the campaign. Turkey did not want the YPG [Kurdish People's Protection Units] or the SDF to take more control of land in Syria, which is why their military got involved there in the first place. The rebel forces were 40 to 50km outside Raqqa, and there were many towns and villages along the way.

In the press conference in Ayn Issa, northern Syria, it was announced rebel fighters would "continue [their offensive] until all objectives are met, namely, seizing and toppling the capital of ISIL". "On this occasion, we call on the international community and regional forces to coordinate and take part in the operation to exterminate ISIL," an SDF official said before announcing the US would offer air support in the offensive. "We also call on international humanitarian and relief agencies to perform their duties for the people in Raqqa after the city has been liberated."

The Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) - which had already dealt ISIL several defeats, including seizing the key border town of Tal Abyad - forms the backbone of the alliance. Along with the Kurdish female Women's Protection Units, the SDF includes Arab factions, Syriac Christian fighters and Turkmen units. The Raqqa Falcons Brigade, a 1,000-strong Arab force whose fighters all hail from Raqqa, is expected to be a key component of the fight for the city.

"When it comes to Raqqa, we want a force that ultimately liberates Raqqa that is primarily from the local area. We have trained many of these fighters and that force will continue to grow as we get to the subsequent phases of that campaign," Brett McGurk, the American official leading the fight against ISIL, told a press conference in Jordan. "We work closely with the Syrian Democratic Forces. When they are fighting Daesh [ISIL], we do provide air support. So that will continue as they move south against Daesh positions north of Raqqa." The US envoy in charge of anti-IS efforts confirmed the SDF, a Kurdish-led group that also includes Arab fighters, was receiving American air support in the operation. "The Raqqa campaign will proceed in phases," Brett McGurk said from the U.S. embassy in Amman. "There’s an isolation phase, which began today, and there will be subsequent phases to make sure that we kick Daesh (IS) out of Raqqa," he added, using an alternate name for the armed group. McGurk also said the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, met in the Turkish capital with his Turkish counterparts for talks on the the new offensive.

Those talks appear aimed at easing Turkish concerns about the makeup and objectives of the SDF, which Washington considers the most potent anti-IS fighting coalition in territory near the Turkish border. For its part, the Ankara government views the main SDF component -- the Syrian Kurdish fighting force known as the People's Protection Units -- as a terrorist organization with links to yet another Kurdish force fighting government forces in southeast Turkey for regional autonomy. Turkish officials went so far last week as to suggest that Turkish-backed forces take the lead in the push to free Raqqa rather than the Kurdish-led SDF.

The Syrian Democratic Forces' key goal at this stage involves isolating and encircling Raqqa. The Pentagon ostensibly wants to prevent Daesh fighters in Raqqa from helping the militants fighting in Mosul and vice versa. In addition, US defense officials want to reduce the terrorist group's capabilities to carry out operations beyond Syria, particularly in Europe, Turkey and the US. The operation aimed at encircling Raqqa is not expected to happen in an instant. The SDF "are moving south to isolate the enemy that's in the vicinity of Raqqa and in Raqqa," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said on Sunday. "We always advertised that the isolation phase is going to take months."

Seizing of the Syrian city of Raqqa by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will not contribute to peace in the region, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said 07 November 2016. The operation to liberate Raqqa will be the second major offensive against Daesh this fall. On October 17, Iraqi troops supported by the Kurdish Peshmerga units and US-led coalition airstrikes launched an offensive to retake Mosul, the main Daesh stronghold in Iraq. “The Arab population prevails in Raqqa, Aleppo, Mosul – these cities must belong to their residents. Nobody will profit from changing their demographic structure. Seizing of the Arab Raqqa by non-Arab [Kurdish] forces will not contribute to peace in the region,” Kurtulmus told journalists in the Turkish capital Ankara.

Washington has taken Turkey's concerns into account and decided that the SDF will not be the force to free Raqqa. In fact, according to Dunford, policymakers in the US have always known that the SDF wasn't "the solution for holding and governing Raqqa." Dunford detailed "[The operation needs] a predominantly Arab and Sunni Arab force..... And there are forces like that. There is the moderate Syrian opposition, the vetted Syrian forces and the Free Syrian Army forces, and there is some initial outreach to forces in Raqqa proper."

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:39:01 ZULU