Sign In / Up

Add contribution as a guest

Your email will not be displayed publicly
Benefit of signing in/signing up to personalize comment

Comment as a guest

Your email will not be displayed publicly
Benefit of signing in/signing up to personalize comment

Login

Not a member Register   Forgot Password
or connect using
 

Email

 

Rudaw

Analysis

What happened to the race for Raqqa?

By Paul Iddon 15/8/2016
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters on the move. AFP photo.
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters on the move. AFP photo.
In late May and early June there was speculation that both the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), backed by the Russians, and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the US-led counter-Islamic State (ISIS) coalition, briefly seemed poised to advance towards ISIS’s Syria stronghold of Raqqa at the same time, possibly sparking what some dubbed a “race for Raqqa.”

However, three weeks into June it was clear there wasn’t going to be a race for Raqqa as forecast. The SDF focused their efforts on besieging ISIS militants in Manbij, in a bid to completely cut off ISIS in Raqqa from Syria’s northwestern border with Turkey.   

The SAA on the other hand, in a bid to regain a foothold in Raqqa province, launched an ill-fated offensive against ISIS-held al-Tabqa, 40 miles west of Raqqa city. ISIS rushed in reinforcements to that town and successfully managed to repel the SAA. 

The SDF operation in Manbij has proven to be a success after a two-month siege. Already, the SDF intend to continue their advance further west from the Euphrates River, not eastward against Raqqa. 

Instead, they hope to continue from Manbij another 50 kilometers down the M4 Highway to Al-Bab. Capturing Al-Bab from ISIS would likely put the SDF in a more advantageous position from which to isolate ISIS militants on the border and relieve pressure on the westernmost Syrian Kurdish canton, Afrin, as well as the Kurdish neighborhood in Aleppo, Sheikh Maqsoud – both of which have been routinely targeted by other Islamist groups, including the former al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, now known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.  

Advancing further into Aleppo against these groups come as the Syrian regime earnestly fights to secure that key province and its capital city for itself. While the race for Raqqa hasn’t necessarily been replaced by a race for Aleppo the SDF may well seek to capitalize on the raging battle in that city in order to make advances in parts of that province. 

The Syrian Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) used the last major regime offensive against Aleppo in February to advance eastward from Afrin against Islamist militants at Menagh Air Base. Similarly today, while the bulk of Islamist groups in Aleppo are focused on combating the regime, the SDF may force ISIS from al-Bab and advance northward from there to cut off the ISIS-held Al-Rai border crossing with Turkey. 

They are already soliciting coalition air support for its next offensive.  However, the US has been wary about supporting the SDF or YPG in that area given Turkey’s sensitivities about, and opposition to, Kurdish-led forces in that border region. The Americans did manage to convince the Turks to acquiesce to the Manbij operation, promising them that the Arab town would be governed by an Arab council following its liberation. The SDF likely want to exercise the same formula in Al-Bab and beyond, and eventually in Raqqa itself. 

Advancing toward Manbij instead of undertaking an immediate large-scale assault on Raqqa was a prudent move on the SDF’s part. Its plan to advance on toward Al-Bab is likely aimed at relieving the pressure on the aforementioned Afrin and Sheikh Maqsoud areas before risking the undertaking of a much tougher offensive against Raqqa. 

For now, with the focus on the Aleppo region, ISIS is likely to remain in Raqqa for at least another couple of months. Without ground allies in that region the Americans, and the Russians, will have to remain content with simply bombing suspected weapons depots, vehicles and economic assets belonging to the militants until a ground offensive, more likely than not an SDF one, finally comes to uproot them. 


Paul Iddon is a Rudaw reporter based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region.

Comments

 
FAUthman | 15/8/2016
Another good column by Paul Iddon. He hit all the relevant notes. Some key questions remain, most important has to do with US/Russia relations and whether there is agreement on a plan based on partitioning Syria since there will not be agreement on Assad's fate controlling all of Syria again! Russia may accept an Alawite enclave for Assad to rule!
T.I. | 16/8/2016
The Aleppo region is extremely strategic, if the SDF play their cards right they might get the United States on board and take everything north of Aleppo linking up Afrin to the rest. One solution to the Turkish dilemma might be SDF leaving a patch of land around 80 km wide and 50 km deep on the Turkish boarder from Azaz to the Euphrates as a 'Turkish zone', that should be enough as a face saving mechanism for Erdogan. Turkey would still have access to the rest of Syria and even the rebels west of Afrin.
M Gonzales
M Gonzales | 16/8/2016
War 101, cut off your enemies supplies and reinforcements. First all of the Turkish border.

Be Part of Your Rudaw!

Share your stories, photos and videos with Rudaw, and quite possibly the world.

What You Say

Guest | 10/16/2018 5:19:46 PM
I agree with you Mr. Romano. Except, I don't think Turkey is an emerging threat, it's conversion to a totalitarian style government along with its...
Masque du Furet | 10/17/2018 4:54:08 AM
Well, as hostage diplomacy seems efficient, it is time for Tutkey to find new hostages (mormons, popists might be interesting). OTOH, if US do not...
Time for US to reassess Turkey's support for extremists
| yesterday at 10:22 | (5)
Baban | 10/16/2018 8:47:00 PM
A cruical milestone in the history of our homelands, a beautiful insight in the work of uncovering important artifacts that i hope will take shape...
haluk | 10/17/2018 4:53:04 AM
Around 1200 BC, different factors such as climate change, volcano eruptions, earthquakes and large scale migrations (the mysterious "sea people")...
Ancient lost city of Mardaman slowly gives up its secrets
| yesterday at 07:13 | (2)
Kdp sold kirkuk | 10/17/2018 3:28:43 AM
Both sold kirkuk. Kurdistan will never be indipendent with kdp puk. Why kdp join iraq govermentare they not against iraq or are they just liars?
Shawn | 10/17/2018 4:21:31 AM
This PUK guy is blaming KDP for the mess the KirKuk in!!! Are you kidding. This PUK dude needs to get his head out his rear and shut the F****k...
KDP, PUK in row over Kirkuk governorship
| yesterday at 08:05 | (8)
Y. A. | 10/16/2018 11:28:54 PM
May Allah Khode help The Kurds and make their enemies taste occupation so they would feel it as they have made the Kurds feel it
Kawan | 10/17/2018 1:44:33 AM
A dark day in kurdish history
The fall of Kirkuk: Flashbacks of October 16
| yesterday at 12:00 | (10)
0.234 seconds