By Allegra Berg
On November 5, U.S.-backed Syrian army groups launched an attack to take back the city of Raqqa in Syria. According to the Telegraph, it will take 30,000 troops from the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF). In the SDF’s Sunday statement, they announced Operation Euphrates Wrath and advised civilians to steer clear of areas where the Islamic State militants are present.
This new offensive will put more pressure on the Islamic State, especially considering that many of their fighters are already battling a current assault by Iraqi security forces at the stronghold in Mosul, according to Reuters.
United States assistance will be more of an “advise and assist role” and consist of coordinating air strikes with the SDF against Raqqa, which has been the de-facto capital of the extremists’ so-called caliphate since 2014.
Concerns revolving around offensive planning were made more complex by Turkish concerns about expanding Kurdish influence. However the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, said last month that actions need to be taken immediately to isolate Raqqa due to fears that the city would be used to plan and to launch attacks against international targets, according to Reuters.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group, said that ISIL detonated two car bombs after the SDF forces initiated an airstrike and gained control of six small villages and farms in the northern country side. The US Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, warned that the fight to get control of Raqqa “will not be easy.” Isolating the city is only the first phase followed by several further plans with Turkey as well as other partners to the United States.
Before the attack was launched, some European leaders were concerned that the time taken to coordinate an attack was allowing the extremists to continue planning and inspire other types of attacks, like those that hit France and Belgium last year, wrote NBC News.
“The effort to isolate and ultimately liberate Raqqa marks the next step in our coalition campaign plan,” Carter said in a statement documented by the Telegraph that the effort to liberate Raqqa and . He went on to say that it is necessary to disrupt ISIL’s ability to carry out terrorist attacks all around the world.
With the most recent announcement’s timing, it confirms the rumors that the Coalition planned to engage both ISIS cities at the same time.
One of the major challenges will be managing the tension between the SDF and Turkey who are key American allies within the area. SDF commanders explicitly stated that they wanted Turkey to stay out of the battle. They relied heavily on the Kurdish fighters, creating vulnerable spots.
According to Reuters, since its formation in 2015, the SDF seized large amounts of territory along the Syria-Turkey border from the Islamic State, pushing the jihadist group back about 18 miles from Raqqa.