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Published On: Mon, Nov 7th, 2016

Syrian Democratic Forces Launch Campaign against ISIS in Raqqa

nsnbc : Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance dominated by the Syrian – Kurdish PYD and its armed wings the YPG and YPJ announced the launch of an operation to liberate Raqqa from Islamic State militants.

raqqa_syria_ypg_pyd_syrian-democratic-forces_dsfThe self-proclaimed Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) declared Raqqa as the capital of its Caliphate. The city of Raqqa, as well as Syria’s Deir Ez-Zor and Damascus provinces have seen an influx in ISIS fighters since the onset of the campaign to dislodge ISIS from the Iraqi city of Mosul last month.

The SDF announced an extensive operation to liberate Raqqa and its countryside from ISIS fighters. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) receive air support as well as support from U.S. special forces and “volunteers” on the ground.

The SDF announced that it opened a joint operations room with the United States for the campaign on November 5. In a statement made on November 6, the SDF announced the launch of the Raqqa campaign saying:

“On this occasion, we assure the democratic forces in the world, our great Syrian people and peoples of the region that this operation will be proceeded strictly till its goal is met in isolating the capital of world terror, then bringing it down. We will be victorious in this decisive battle like we overcame in Kobane, Tel Abyad, al-Hasakah, al-Hawl, al-Shaddadi and Manbij. … The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is leading this operation with an effective participation from the YPG and YPJ factions, and in cooperation with the US-led coalition. … We call on the regional and international powers, who have already suffered from ISIS terrorism, to participate by providing support to our forces, whether logistic or political support. We also appeal to the international community to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Raqqa, who’ll be soon freed from ISIS grip. … “We also call on our people in Raqqa to stay away from ISIS headquarters, which will be direct targets for the SDF and the coalition. We appeal to the civilians to head to secure locations, and to support our operation, the Battle for Raqqa.” 

raqqa_syria_sdf_ypg_ypj_nov-2016U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter commented on the operation on Sunday evening, saying:

“I welcome today’s announcement by the SDF that the operation to free Raqqa from ISIS’ barbaric grip has begun. The effort to isolate, and ultimately liberate, Raqqa marks the next step in our coalition campaign plan. … As in Mosul, the fight will not be easy and there is hard work ahead, but it is necessary to end the fiction of ISIL’s caliphate and disrupt the group’s ability to carry out terror attacks against the United States, our allies and our partners. The international coalition will continue to do what we can to enable local forces in both Iraq and Syria to deliver ISIL the lasting defeat it deserves.”

It is noteworthy that the United States operates in Syria without a mandate from the UN Security Council or an official authorization from the Syrian government. The United States have, however, an informal agreement with Syria not to target the Syrian Arab Army and an agreement with Russia to coordinate “flight safety” for Syrian, Russian as well as U.S.-led coalition air forces in Syria.

The SDF / PYD YPG-YPJ / PKK Nexus

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are an umbrella organization for several northern Syrian ethnic militia who oppose Islamist militants of any kind. The dominant force within the SDF is the Syrian – Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) with its military wings the YPG and its all female YPJ. The status of the PYD / YPG – YPJ causes controversy. While the SDF are supported by the United States, the YPG – YPJ have also received some weapons and other support from Syria and Russia.

The U.S. and Russia are, so to speak, cooperating with the SDF / PYD – YPG – YPJ nexus as they are competing over influence over them. Complicating the issue further is the fact that the PYD is a long-standing ally of Turkey’s Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) which is engaged in an armed conflict with the Turkish State. US cooperation with the YPG – YPJ is a cause of diplomatic tensions between Turkey and NATO ally Turkey.

The PKK launched its armed insurrection in 1986. Both the PKK and the PYD have since been part of the Soviet (later Russia’s) and the Syrian strategy against NATO’s regional ambitions. Both the PKK and PYD were so to speak a potential buffer in the case of a conflict between NATO and Russia and Syria, involving Turkey. Many analysts assess the PYD’s cooperation with the US, Russia as well as Syria as pragmatic steps on the way to establish an independent Kurdish state. (Read related background articles below for a comprehensive overview over Kurdish factors in the region and geopolitical factors)

CH/L – nsnbc 07.11.2016

Background articles:

The Kurdistan Factor
The Battle for Mosul turns into Regional War – ISIL allowed to flee to Syria
Why the KDP-I opts for Armed Struggle against Tehran: Middle East War Spills Over into Iran
Middle East War Spills Over Into Iran

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