As the multitude of Syrian opposition forces converge for the offensive on Raqqa, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) claim they are prepared to take the ISIS stronghold with the help of their American supporters.
The SDF made these statements as conflict between Turkey and the Syrian Kurdish contingent of the SDF continues to grow. Turkey’s military claimed to have killed 71 Kurdish fighters on Friday as part of its military operations in northern Syria.
Turkey believes the Kurdish fighters within the SDF are at least partly composed of soldiers from the YPG, an organization the Turks believe are terrorists.
The United States has overtly deployed members of the 75th Ranger Regiment to the Manbij area as a deterrent to any attacks against their militia allies. The situation on the ground there is likely further complicated with the presence of Russian soldiers in the area. Photos were posted on Twitter showing uniformed Russians in Arima, a nearby village, and reportedly within Manbij itself. Perhaps as a symbol of the truly complex system of allies and rivals, the Russian soldiers in the pictures are wearing patches from the YPG and SDF, enemies of Turkey but also the Assad regime the Russians are there to support.
Russia has made an attempt to paint their involvement in Syria as a primarily counter terrorist operation. Their announcement this week of having killed more than 600 Islamic State militants is part of that narrative. Their Assad regime allies will likely use the campaign against the Islamic State, one with broad international support, to legitimize their own standing as a governing force in Syria.
American commanders have kept secret their plans for the assault on Raqqa, which now includes the participation of at least 400 conventional Marines with M777 howitzer support for fire missions. U.S. Central Command announced strikes on ISIS positions and command and control hubs near Raqqa, signaling that the eventual attack is taking shape.
With Central Command Commander General Votel calling for additional American troops to help stabilize infighting across nominally “allied” groups, it remains unclear what role the United States is seeking to play in a post-ISIS Syria, if any.
Image courtesy of the BBC