Ahmad al-Jarba, a Syrian opposition leader. He says he commands Arab fighters, trained by the US-led coalition, to join the Raqqa operation. File photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A 3,000-strong Arab force is to be deployed to the fight against ISIS militants in Raqqa, under the banner of the Kurdish-led multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who have captured large areas north and west of the self-proclaimed ISIS capital in northern Syria.
Ahmad al-Jarba, the head of the Syrian Elite Force, also called Syrian Special Force, said that the Arab fighters, who are under his command, are receiving training by the US-led coalition.
"Now we are preparing for the battle of Raqqa," Jarba told Reuters in an interview in Cairo. "There is a training program with the coalition forces. We will be ready to enter this battle in force and we are in the process of preparing for it to liberate our lands."
The SDF, at the time of announcing the second stage of Raqqa operation, dubbed the Wrath of Euphrates, revealed that the Syrian Elite Force will join the military campaign, following a request from the US-led coalition.
“The Wrath of Euphrates is expanding even more with more groups joining, including... the Special Forces that belong to the al-Ghad al-Souri Movement," the SDF stated in December.
After reaching an agreement with the US-led coalition, the elite force will fight under the SDF flag for the Raqqa operation but will remain an independent force, Talal Silo, the SDF spokesperson said in December.
The US is a staunch supporter of the SDF. They both confirmed that the Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC), a group of predominantly local Arab fighters within the SDF, received in late January several Guardian armoured vehicles from the US.
The SDF is a coalition of forces including the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian Arab Coalition, and Turkmen and Assyrian elements. During its campaign for Raqqa, the SDF has also added many local fighters to its ranks.
In the ongoing second phase of the military offensive to isolate Raqqa, the SDF have liberated an area of 2480 square kilometers; that includes 196 villages and Jaabar citadel, Cihan Sheikh Ahmed, spokesperson for the operation, at the press conference in mid-January.
"With this, an area of 3200 square kilometers has been fully liberated since the beginning of the operation,” said Ahmed. “It includes 236 villages, and tens of hamlets. This means that Raqqa has been encircled from both north and west.”
The SDF is now some 4 or 5 kilometers west of the strategic Tabqa Dam.