Cihan Shekh Ahmed, spokesperson of the general command of the Wrath of Euphrates operation, announcing the commencement of phase three of the Raqqa campaign. Photo: Raqqa liberation campaign/Facebook
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Saturday the commencement of the third phase of the campaign to oust ISIS from their self-declared capital Raqqa.
The primary goal of this phase is the complete isolation of Raqqa, clearing territory east of the city, Cihan Shekh Ahmed, spokesperson of the general command of the Wrath of Euphrates operation, announced in a press conference.
Joining this stage of the operation are new recruits from areas that have been liberated by the SDF in the first two phases of their campaign. The new recruits have received training and arms with the support of the international anti-ISIS coalition, the general command’s statement detailed.
The US-led coalition is providing air support, advice, training, and material support to the Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC), one of the elements fighting within the ethnically diverse SDF.
“The SAC is made of about 23,000 fighters, 13,000 of which are vetted. These are the only ones we train and equip,” the press office of the coalition confirmed to Rudaw English by email.
In late January, the coalition and the SDF confirmed that the coalition had provided armoured vehicles to the SAC.
The campaign to liberate Raqqa began on November 5 and saw the SDF advance on two fronts north of the city, liberating 550 square kilometres of territory in less than one week.
The second phase of the campaign was launched on December 10 with the goal of reaching the strategic al-Tabqa Dam. The SDF gained significant territory during this stage, including the historic Qalat Jabar and the large town of Suweydiya al-Kabirah, on the northern bank of the Euphrates River.
The two SDF fronts met northwest of Raqqa in early January and are now just a few kilometres from the dam. SDF operations in this area are continuing. They are applying a crescent-shaped brigade on the city, from the north and northwest, Ahmed confirmed last month.
Isolating the city will involve taking the Raqqa-Deir ez-Zur road.
Former US President Barack Obama’s administration developed a plan for retaking Raqqa that depended heavily on Kurdish forces, the Peoples Protection Units (YPG) who are the dominant force in the SDF, including providing them with arms. The final decision however was left to President Donald Trump.
Trump’s team reportedly rejected Obama’s plan and he has given the Pentagon until the end of February to formulate a strategy to retake the key city. Ending ISIS rule in Mosul and Raqqa will effectively end the self-proclaimed caliphate.