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Published On: Wed, Jun 7th, 2017

Syrian Democratic Forces launch battle for the liberation of Raqqa

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nsnbc : The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched their operation to liberate Raqqa from the self-proclaimed Islamic State. On Tuesday the Syrian – Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), in the name of the Operations Room of the Wrath of the Euphrates Command, announced the start of the “Great Battle” for the liberation of Raqqa, which the self-proclaimed Islamic State has turned into its “capital”.

SDF announce start of the operation to liberate Raqqa. Photo courtesy YPG.

SDF announce start of the operation to liberate Raqqa. Photo courtesy YPG.

The YPG reported that the war for the liberation of the city will begin with the participation of the Army of Revolutionaries (Jaysh al-Thuwar), Jabhat al-Akrad, Democratic al-Shamal Brigades, Tribal Forces, Maghawir Humus Brigades, Siqur al-Raqqa, Liwa al-Tahrir, Seljuk Turkmen Brigade, Hamam Turkmen Martyrs Battalion, Sanadid Forces, Syriac Military Council, Manbij Military Council, Deir ez-Zor Military Council, Self-Defense Forces, Asayish Forces, YPG/YPJ and Nuxbe Forces.

The troops also receive air support from the United States and the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS – with the definite exception of Turkey which considers the YPG / YPJ as terrorist organizations on par and allied with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).

The YPG, on behalf of the operations room, noted  that this battle is taking place with the help of the Raqqa Civilian Council, the Syrian Democratic Council (MSD), the tribal opinion leaders in the region, as well as the help of people in the region in general. The YPG also reported that the forces are ready to fight with high morale after great preparations, and that the battle plan which has been discussed with their partners on the ground, the International Coalition, is ready to be implemented.

The YPG, on behalf of the operations room, reiterated that it once again calls on people in Raqqa to stay away from the enemy’s centers and concentrations of enemies. In their statement, the YPG said “We call on our people to gather around our forces and help them so that they can fulfill their duties. We are also urging the youth of Raqqa to continue their participation in our forces to liberate the lands they live in”.

The push for the liberation of Raqqa was made possible after the liberation of the city of Tabqa and after the Tabqa Dam was fully seized from the Islamic State last months, after months of preparations.

The campaign to liberate Raqqa was ultimately launched on June 6, after ISIS fighters had been given a chance to withdraw until the end of May. After capturing Tabqa and the Tabqa Dam earlier this month, the SDF advanced to within a few kilometers of Raqqa city. Operations to encircle the city have been underway since November 2016. Raqqa has functioned as the capital of the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s “Caliphate” since 2014.

On May 15 the SDF released an appeal, promising ISIS fighters who turned themselves in within ten days that no harm would come to them had yielded positive results. The SDF did not specify what it meant by “positive results” such as the number of ISIS fighters who had surrendered or left Raqqa.

The SDF has also not released any information pertaining the whereabouts of those who may have surrendered,  their legal status and other information one would expect from organizations that adhere to international law and internationally recognized principles about the rights of combatants. The SDF has, however, repeated its call on ISIS fighters to surrender, and extended the period until May 3 before the operation to liberate the city was launched on June 6.

The SDF said some 3,000 – 4,000 Islamic State fighters are thought to be in Raqqa city. The U.S regards the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wings, the YPG and YPJ, which are part of SDF alliance, as key ally against Islamic State. The YPG / YPJ have about 60,000 fighters. The Syrian government considers the YPG as an ally in the fight against ISIS but is weary about possible U.S.-plans to use the U.S.’ support of the YPG and SDF as leverage to “occupy or Balkanize” the country later.

ISIS troops who may still want to attempt to break out of Raqqa would meet least resistance from ground troops west of the city. Once in the open, these troops would, however, be unprotected against air strikes. Meanwhile, forces of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and allied militia are pushing in southern and southwestern directions along the western bank of the Euphrates river from frontline villages around the Jirah Airbase and towards Tabqa.

ISIS fighters who might succeed at breaking out of Raqqa would, depending on the U.S.-led coalition’s willingness to also launch air strikes against ISIS when ISIS troops pose a threat to the Syrian Arab Army, have to eventually be met by SAA troops and Syrian – Russian air forces.

CH/L – nsnbc 07.06.2017

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