Raqqa is the Syrian stronghold of the Islamic state, where the militant group conducts training camps and conducts operations.
An alliance backed by the United States of Syrian armed groups launched an operation to retake the town of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, said Sunday the group.
The new offensive increases the pressure on the Islamic state at a critical time, when his fighters are already struggling against the assault of Iraqi security forces on their Iraqi stronghold remaining in the city of Mosul
A statement issued by the Syrian Democratic Forces supported by the United States (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish armed groups and Arab, said the campaign, called Euphrates Anger, began Saturday night. “The general command of the Syrian Democratic Forces announces the happy beginning of its major military campaign to liberate the city of Raqqa,” said Jehan Sheikh Amad, spokesman for the homeless at a news conference in the Syrian city of Ain Issa, 50 km north of Raqqa.
The United States would coordinate air strikes with the SDF, which includes the powerful Kurdish militia and YPG has been the main partner on the ground in Syria for the coalition led by the United States against the Islamic state.
Raqqa is the Syrian stronghold of Sunni Muslim Islamic ultra-hardline state, where he directs training camps and conducts operations. The group oversaw the civilian life in the city, including bakeries, banks, schools and mosques.
Brett McGurk, the envoy of the state against Islamic US President Barack Obama, told reporters during a stopover in Amman that the “initial phase” of Raqqa offensive began. “The Raqqa campaign will take place in phases, deliberate steps, there will be an isolation phase which began today and the steps to ensure we get Daesh Raqqa,” McGurk said.
The SDF statement said the operation was aimed “to isolate and overthrow the capital of international terrorism”, indicating an initial phase to surround Raqqa before any movement to enter. No deadline was given.
Planning the offensive Raqqa was complicated by factors such as the Turkish concerns about the expansion of Kurdish influence in northern Syria and fears of Arabs who are worried about a Kurdish presence in the predominantly Arab city. The SDF said Thursday it had rejected any Turkish participation in Raqqa countryside.
Backed rebels in Turkey who fight under the banner of the Free Syrian Army and the YPG and its allies are hostile to each other and clashed repeatedly. Turkey said Raqqa would be targeted in its own operation against the Islamic state in northern Syria, it fights with Syrian Arab rebels.
McGurk said the “vanguard” of the SDF forces entering Raqqa would be composed of ethnic Arabs, and not of Kurdish fighters who form the backbone of SDF forces. “Regarding Raqqa, we want a force that releases Raqqa, which comes mainly from the region, Arabs in the region, and we formed a lot of these fighters and this force will continue to grow as we get to the next phases From campaign, “said McGurk reporters.
The SDF also said that Arab groups would participate in the operation and called Raqqa civilians to avoid areas where militants of the Islamic State are present and surrender the “liberated territory.”
An attack against Raqqa is long overdue, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, saying Oct. 25 that the battle to retake would “overlap” with the onslaught against Mosul. The US military commander in Iraq, General Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend said last month that the coalition led by the United States that fought against the Islamic state wanted to move from emergency to isolate Raqqa on fears that the group uses the city to plan and launch attacks against targets abroad.
France also pushed for simultaneous action on both fronts. French President Hollande said last month that there was evidence that the Islamic State fighters fleeing in Raqqa, and that everything must be done to prevent them to regroup.
The French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday that an offensive should be launched on Raqqa as the battle to push the group out of Mosul is ongoing. “We must go to Raqqa … it will automatically be local forces that will free Raqqa although French forces, American forces, coalition contribute with air strikes to dismantle Daesh” said Le Drian on the radio Europe 1, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “Mosul-Raqqa can not be separated because the Islamic state and the territories it occupies cover this region,” he said.
Since its inception in early 2015, the SDF has seized land areas along the Syria-Turkey border of the Islamic state and pushed the jihadist group less than 30 km from Raqqa.