The SDF announced the commencement of phase two of the campaign to liberate Raqqa from ISIS in front of a large number of SDF troops. Photo: Raqqa Campaign Facebook/live video stream
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The second phase of the military campaign to retake Raqqa, dubbed Wrath of Euphrates, has begun, the General Command of the Syrian Democratic Forces' (SDF) operation announced on Saturday in Suluk, northern Raqqa Province.
“The military council of the Syrian Democratic Forces took the decision to begin the second phase of the operation in its last meeting, which aims to fully liberate the western countryside of Raqqa as well as isolating the city, and to continue the operation until it achieves all of its objectives,” the SDF stated.
On Thursday, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) said on Twitter that in the second stage of the campaign, forces were aiming for al-Tabqa dam.
In the summer, the Syrian army launched a campaign to retake control of Tabqa. They briefly entered Raqqa province for the first time since ISIS took over the area in August 2014. The regime forces however were driven out of the province by the terrorist group for a second time.
Tabqa, 50 kilometres west of Raqqa, is of strategic importance – it is home to both a major dam and a former airbase. ISIS sent reinforcements to the area in June to fend off the regime advance.
The SDF announced the start of their campaign to retake Raqqa, dubbed Wrath of Euphrates, on November 6. At the time, their force was 30,000 strong, with 80 percent coming being locals from Raqqa. Since the commencement of the military operation, new recruits have joined their forces. They had prepared at least four training course for people from Raqqa wanting to join the SDF.
“The Wrath of Euphrates is expanding even more with more groups joining, including the military council of Deir al-Zur and the Special Forces that belong to the al-Ghad al-Souri Movement and the Raqqa Revolutionary Brigade, as well as an additional 1500 fighters who joined from the Arab component from Raqqa and its surroundings recently. They were trained and provided with weapons by the global coalition," the SDF stated.
The al-Ghad al-Souri Movement formed in March 2016. After reaching an agreement with the US-led coalition, they are fighting under the SDF flag for the Raqqa operation but will remain an independent force. In September, the group made an agreement with the Rojava administration
with respect to Kurdish governance in their cantons. The group’s head hailed it as a “new chapter of brotherly relations between Arabs and Kurds.”
On November 11, the SDF announced the first phase of their campaign complete. In that phase, the SDF liberated an area covering 700 square kilometers, tens of villages and several towns and strategic roads, the SDF stated Saturday.
The SDF forces are being supported by coalition air power. The coalition has carried out 18 airstrikes in the Raqqa area this week.
“We confirm that our cooperation with the global coalition is continuing in an effective and productive manner,” the SDF stated Saturday. “And this cooperation will become even stronger and more effective in the second phase of the operation.”
US special forces are also on the ground in northern Syria aiding in the operation. On Saturday, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced that they are deploying an additional 200 soldiers in Syria, where he said local forces are 24 kilometres away from Raqqa. Some of the American forces will also be allocated to assist Turkish forces in the region.
The spokesperson of the Wrath of Euphrates campaign to retake Raqqa, Jihan Sheikh Ahmad, is a native of Raqqa. She joined the YPG in 2011, according to biographical information about her published by the Raqqa campaign.
Jihan Sheikh Ahmad