Baladi News – (Turki Mostafa)
This paper discusses the endeavors of Syria’s Democratic Forces (SDF), and their backbone, the Kurdish PYD party, with the support of the US-led international coalition, to drive ISIS out of and destroy Raqqa city over the heads of its residents on the pretext of fighting terrorism.
The paper will deal with the geostrategic and geopolitical importance of Raqqa city to the various parties to the conflict, and will highlight the military plans adopted by the international coalition to capture the city.
It the conclusion, a forward-look will be provided regarding the fate of the city.
Since it captured the city in 2014 after driving the Free Syrian army out, ISIS has turned Raqqa into a main economic pillar for financing its war. The terrorist organization chose the city as its capital and base for sending its forces in all directions.
Today, the international coalition forces, as well as the Russians and Assad’s regime, turned their attention towards the city. Thousands of Kurdish fighters, covered by the jet fighters of the international coalition, mobilized to capture the city.
Whereas the battle for Raqqa, the capital of ISIS, is in progress, Russian sources indicate that an agreement between ISIS and the separatist Kurdish forces was concluded, according to which ISIS fighters would withdraw from the almost-fallen city.
However, the symbolic importance of the city for ISIS rules out such a possibility.
Geostrategic Importance of Raqqa
Raqqa city enjoys a geographic location in the middle of the densely-populated cities and towns of Euphrates Valley.
It can also be described as the most important and influential part on the southern part of Turkey due to the long mutual borders.
Raqqa province is of a high strategic importance because of Euphrates Dam and the vast plains extending on the two banks of Euphrates River, not to mention the existence of oil fields in the southern part of it.
The strategic importance of Raqqa is also attributed to the fact that it is the major geographic linking point between the provinces of al-Jazira and Aleppo on the one hand and the Syrian Desert and Turkey on the other.
SDF and the Ethnic Discord on the Ground
Despite their apparent harmony, the parties seeking to control Raqqa have a lot of differences as revealed by military plans. The ground forces engaged in the battles include Syria’s Democratic Forces (SDF), a military formation constituted of a Kurdish majority and Arab minority, PYD, a Kurdish militia classified as a terrorist organization that committed ethnic crimes against Arabs, the Elite Forces, a US-supported military formation led by Ahmad Jarba, a former president of the Syrian opposition’s coalition, and the Raqqa Hawks Brigade, a military group established by Assad’s and constituted of al-Baath party members and regime supporters, which seeks to pull the rug from under the FSA, represented by the Front of Raqqa Revolutionaries.
Tactics of Raqqa Battle
The areas on the front lines of ISIS fighters in Maskahah, al-Tabaqa, Raqqat Samra, and Balikh villages, represented a tactical depth in which the developments of battles would decide the fate of the city.
Having controlled the supply routes and the forward positions, the separatist Kurds caused the fragmentation of the back rows of ISIS, which crammed ISIS fighters in a narrow geographic area and put their strategic depth at an extremely high risk.
The Military Scene of the Battle
The US-led international coalition has intensified its airstrikes against Raqqa city since April, whereas the aforementioned coalition-supported forces are advancing on the ground from two directions, al-Mshallab in the east and the 17th Division.
With the approach of the international coalition forces to the city of Raqqa, the ground intervention of US and British forces on the ground increased and Marines forces were sent to support the "SDF" in the eastern and western sides. US Special Forces also carried out an airdrop on the rooftops of the Sariko houses north of the city, which contributed to the control of parts of the fortified 17th Division with the support of the British artillery.
The Importance of Raqqa Battle in the Context of Geopolitical Competition
The geopolitical dimension of the battle of Raqqa, which goes beyond uprooting ISIS to include other objectives related to regional and international competition among Iran, Turkey, Russia and the United States for influence in this vital region, cannot be ignored.
The Moral and Human Dimensions of Raqqa Battle
The battle for controlling Raqqa can be described as an easy task for the international coalition and the separatist Kurdish forces due to many incentives, and particularly their political and military superiority.
The offensive forces could adopt a military plan that involves finding a safe corridor for evacuating civilians. However, the international coalition has showered the city with missiles and artillery shells, which has caused massive losses in the lives of civilians and formidable damage to the infrastructure and properties.
On Saturday alone, 43 civilians, including women and children, were killed in an airstrike against al-Jamili neighborhood. The international coalition, through the US military leadership in the Middle East, admitted that at least 484 civilians had been unintentionally killed since 2014. However, the real death toll exceeds 10 times this number.
Since the beginning of June, the strikes of the international coalition have become more brutal and indiscriminate. In addition, since the terrorist-classified Kurdish militias reached the outskirts of the city, serious consequences for residents are expected.
Raqqa and the Ambiguous Fate
The military structure of SDF parties participating in the battle of Raqqa reveals large differences within each party, although the general scene shows a consensus.
The national antagonism among the Allies and the exclusion of the rebel factions from participating in the liberation gives the Kurdish militias the opportunity to fully occupy and rule the Arab city, while formally involving some of their Arab clients in managing the local affairs.
The Turks, who have refused to participate in the battle of Raqqa because they oppose the participation of the Kurdish militias that they describe as terrorists, take into consideration the declaration of war against the Kurdish protection units seeking to expand their geographic influence.
On the other hand, US officials stressed that the mission of the Kurdish protection units would end with the expulsion of ISIS, and that these units would not be concentrated in the city, which will be handed over to its Arab citizens divided between Kurdish agents and opponents loyal to the Syrian coalition.
The Kurdish protection units were the first to envisage the governance of Raqqa in the future. Last April, they declared the establishment of the so-called Raqqa Civil Council in Ayn Issa city. The council is constituted of 10 members, including 2 Kurds and 8 Arabs, which was challenged by the Syrian opposition concerned with the affairs of the city, because the Kurds have had a history of occupying Arab cities.
Consequently, the fate of governing Raqqa after rolling back ISIS is a mystery.