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Picture of complicated clashes in Raqqa, involved forces

(AhlulBayt News Agency) - In past few days, the assault to recapture Raqqa in northern Syria has grabbed more attention of the analysts than Mosul offensive which is approaching its final stages.

As the 2017 is drawing closer to its middle, the media and political analysts who focus on the West Asia region become more and more seriously obsessed with the idea of obliteration of ISIS terrorist group in the region.

After 2014, Iraq’s Mosul and Syria’s Raqqa have been the top regional ISIS strongholds. However, the Iraqi joint forces launched their operation to recapture the capital of Nineveh province on October 17 last year, now managing to reclaim virtually 90 percent of the large and strategic city from the terrorists. Such a big loss of ground by the terrorist group triggered widespread obsession with end of its life in the region.

In past few days, the assault to recapture Raqqa in northern Syria has grabbed more attention of the analysts than Mosul offensive which is approaching its final stages. The reports suggest that possibly the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a bloc of different militant units with Kurdish majority, will launch their final comprehensive offensive against ISIS in Raqqa in association with the so-called US-led international anti-terror military coalition. The operation to take back Raqqa from ISIS is complicated and multi-faceted. A picture of the operation and the forces engaged follows here:    

1. April 2017: date of Raqqa liberation assault

One crucial issue with big media and expert concentration is the exact time of beginning of the Raqqa reclaiming offensive. Sipan Hemo, a top commander in the SDF, in an interview with Reuters, has told the local coalition forces will begin their final liberating operation to retake the de facto capital of self-proclaimed ISIS caliphate in early April with backup from the US. Moreover, in very latest comments Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French minister of defense, whose country is member of the anti-ISIS international coalition said “Raqqa is one of ISIS safe havens. Today we can say that Raqqa is encircled and that the battle will begin in the coming days. It will be a very hard battle but it will be an essential battle.”

The French defense minster's remarks come to confirm the comments made by the top commander of the SDF who said the final phase of the operation is likely to begin in early April. However, it should not be disregarded that Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis just days ago said that the final decision on when to start recapturing Raqqa has not been made yet.

2. US backs Syria’s Kurdish factions in Raqqa assault despite Turkey’s objection

The SDF commanders first talked about Raqqa operation almost a year ago. For the first time on May 24, 2016 Raqqa operation was kicked off, featuring 30,000 forces, including 25,000 Kurdish and 5,000 Arab militant fighters. 500 American special forces, backed by the international coalition’s air cover, also contributed to the mission against ISIS. But a couple of days after the beginning, the progresses towards Raqqa were ceased, instead the advancing SDF forces headed towards Manbij, a town in north of Aleppo.

After Manbij recapture from ISIS, Raqqa liberation was raised again, and the SDF forces resumed the offensive against terrorists in Raqqa since December 5, 2016. The assault is planned in three stages. They managed to liberate a vast area of Raqqa, including many towns and villages around the ISIS-held city. The progressing forces for the first time since its capture by ISIS forced their way into Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria. A full encirclement of Raqqa within last month has prepared the ground for storming the city for its liberation.

What has been glaringly apparent in Raqqa liberation process is the peremptory cooperation between the US and the SDF whose major part consists of the Kurdish forces. The alliance has been strongly criticized by the Turkish officials over the course of past two years. The Ankara criticism directed against the US-Kurdish alliance was even sharpened by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other politicians especially after Turkey officially announced launching the Operation Euphrates Shield on August 24, 2016, which led to military encounters between the Turkish army and the Kurdish forces.

When President Donald Trump assumed office in January this year, the Turks hoped that his presidency will terminate the American cooperation with the Syrian Kurds. To Turkey’s frustration, not only Washington declined to reduce level of collaboration with the Kurdish factions but also it sent more weapons for them, as at the same time it dispatched additional 1,000 American troops to back the Kurdish-led Raqqa operation. By doing so, the new American leader made it clear that he was determined to continue work with the Kurds and this will likely continue in the future. The analysts say that the Kurdish beginning of the final phase of Raqqa liberation with crucial support from the US and the international coalition will further strain the Turkish relations with the US. They add that the Turkish frustration with US can push Erdogan of Turkey even closer to Russia in Syria.

3. Syrian army’s participation in Raqqa assault

Still another major issue urging special focus is the possible central Syrian government’s forces joining the liberating offensive in Raqqa. The issue drew further attention particularly after Talal Salu, the spokesman for the SDF, during his interview with the Syrian daily Al-Watan on March 24 said they will start the Raqqa operation in 15 days and that they have no problem with the Syrian government’s forces taking part in the liberation process.

On the other side, Bashar Jaafari, the Syrian envoy to the UN and the head of the Syrian government’s delegation in the Geneva 5 peace talks, said Syria supports any force that “honestly” battles ISIS and terrorism in Syria. He continued that the US intervention in Syria, sending arms to the Syrian opposition groups, and even backing the terrorists in the face of central Syrian government by no means signal that Washington stands against terrorism. He pointed to the need for all sides on the ground to cooperate with the Syrian government as the only way to destroy ISIS terrorists across the country.

Whatever the form of the upcoming operation and the participating forces, any possible Syria government’s partaking in Raqqa liberation offensive could even further complicate the crisis in the country, according to the analysts.




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