U.S administration had not set a date yet for the initiation of the liberation operations of Raqqa, despite the troops on the outskirts of the city. It seems that the U.S. – Kurdish coordination to fight ISIS in northern Syria has reached its highest levels, amid continuous visits of U.S generals to the area and meetings of Kurd officials in Washington.
Syrian regime considers the new U.S. scheme to liberate Raqqa as ‘Plan B’, a substitute for the political solution and prior to the formation of a U.S. military base in northern Syria. Kurdish forces on the other hand, do not seem very excited about the upcoming operations since they believe that liberating other towns such as Manbij and Jarablous, and connecting Ifrin with Kobani are far more important. Yet, Kurdish forces feel they are forced to accept the U.S. decision and thus intensified their trainings and deployed thousands of Kurdish and Arab fighters in Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Army of Revolutionaries, and al-Sanadid Forces.
A field activist in Raqqa told Aki, the Italian news Agency, that Syrian Kurds had deployed around 12 thousand fighters around the city in preparation to entering it along with the U.S.-led international coalition. Syrian Kurdish official Idris Na’san told Ashareq al-Awsat that: “The number of estimated fighters is about 12 thousand, more or less.” Na’san added that zero hour of the operations hasn’t been set yet, but it is not far.
According to activist of “Raqqa is being slaughtered silently” campaign, Abu Mohammed al-Raqqawi, the troops are in Ein Issa but may not reach 12 thousand. He added that: “Based on information, operations will be launched from three fronts. First, towards Der Ezzor outskirts. Second, from Ein Issa towards Raqqa, and third from Kobani towards Aleppo eastern countryside.”
Al-Raqqawi told Asharq al-Awsat that this scheme can’t be confirmed but what they know is that they are working for Arab troops to be on the front in Raqqa operations. He continued to say that this battle won’t be easy as the town has been barricaded for over two years and is very important for ISIS.
Kurds do not expect U.S. troops to partake in the operations despite being heavily deployed in northern Syria. A Kurd official revealed to Asharq al-Awsat that there are over 200 U.S. experts in the area and their mission is limited to training.
“Raqqa is being slaughtered silently” group believes that there are about 25 U.S. soldiers in Ein Issa overseeing the trainings of People’s Protection Units (YPG). The group also added that U.S. troops increased the number of its troops inside the Lafarge concrete factory which is turning into a military base. One of activist in the same area said this is the first time they see U.S. troops in Ein Issa accompanying members of YPG and supervising military training.
U.S. movements in the area are not only limited to the visit General Joe Votel did on Saturday. Head of Kurdish Center for Studies Nawaf Khalil revealed that Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (another acronym for ISIS) at the U.S., Brett McGurk visited Kurdish areas in northern Syria. Khalil noted that these visits happened during the time head of Democratic Syria council Elham Ahmad met with high officials in Europe and Washington, the White House to be exact. Khalil rejected any allegations that Kurds want to self-govern in Raqqa following its liberation.
Syrian Colonel Abdul Jabbar al-Akidi is pessimistic about the U.S.-Kurd operations in Raqqa. Akidi spoke with Asharq Al-Awsat saying that YPG is part of Kurdish Democratic Political Union which they consider terrorist and thus: “Raqqa is being prepared to replace ISIS terrorism, right arm of U.S., with YPG’s terrorism, left arm of Syria.” Akidi added that since 2014, they have been fighting the trio: Syrian Regime – ISIS – YPG, without any support or backup.