Raqqa operation to start soon

A high-level political dialogue is ongoing between Washington and Ankara about the composition of the forces that will liberate Raqqa.

Coalition operations targeting Raqqa will begin “soon.” The spokesman for the US-led military coalition against the Islamic State (IS) told Kurdistan24's Washington-based defense correspondents on Thursday.

Speaking by video conference from Baghdad, Colonel John Dorrian’s opening remarks focused on the IS-controlled city of Raqqa. Throughout the press briefing, Dorrian repeatedly stated that the Raqqa military operations would begin soon.

Significant problems remain: Not yet enough local Arab forces are available to do the fighting on the ground. Turkey maintains its long-standing objection to US support for the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who will lead the ground combat.

However, when asked whether the US Secretary of Defense had “misspoken” when he recently said the operation against Raqqa would begin within “weeks,” Dorian had a firm, definitive, and unambiguous response. It was one word: “no.”

The focus on Raqqa is driven by concern about IS’ terrorism directed against Europe, the US, and elsewhere. Dorian repeatedly explained that IS used northern Syria—rather than Iraq—as a center for planning and executing “external operations”—i.e. terrorism.

As Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the US commander of Operation Inherent Resolve, stated last week, "We know they're up to something. And it’s an external plot; we don't know exactly where; we don't know exactly when.” And as Townsend further explained, the very uncertainty is creating “a sense of urgency.”

US military planners are drawing a somewhat false distinction between two phases of the operation on Raqqa. The first step is the “isolation” of Raqqa. The city's liberation will follow it.

Raqqa’s isolation is crucial. Its aims are to deny IS the ability to move in and out of the city, and, thereby, block, or at least severely impede, its ability to carry out terrorist attacks.

The SDF has the ability to execute the isolation of Raqqa, according to Dorian. They already have a large-enough force for the job, and they have “proven they can be very effective.”

“They’ve proven they can defeat Daesh, because they did that in Manbij” and “throughout their area,” he added.

However, outstanding issues regarding the liberation of Raqqa remain. Further, more Arab forces must be trained. The new recruits will be put through two weeks of training. Even that brief time would suffice, Dorrian claimed, as they already had some combat experience.

Turkey represents another outstanding issue. The US dealings with the SDF are anathema in Ankara. And the Turkish government certainly does not want the conflict to end with the SDF in control of even more territory than it already commands.

A high-level political dialogue is ongoing between Washington and Ankara about the composition of the forces that will liberate Raqqa. The US believes that those forces should be local Arabs and that the SDF is capable of recruiting such a force. Ankara has other ideas, although it is far from clear that they are practicable.

Before 9/11, US intelligence picked up signals that al-Qaida was planning an attack. But they did not know what that attack would be or where it would occur; It just assumed that the assault would occur overseas.

Of course, US officials will not make that mistake again. Whatever IS is planning may turn out to be quite limited. But if US officials are concerned that IS may be planning another 9/11-scale attack, they will move speedily and decisively. That may help explain the focus now on quickly isolating Raqqa.


Editing by Delovan Barwari