Female Arab fighters among the Syrian Democratic Forces, made up of US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters, stand together near the village of al-Torshan, 20 km on the outskirts of Raqa last Monday. Photo: AFP/Delil Souleiman.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — An all-Arab force will be tasked with the mission of entering the Syrian city of Raqqa, the capital of the ISIS once it has been fully liberated, Ahmad al-Jarba who commands a US-trained 3,000-strong Arab force under the banner of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) said on Sunday.
“The Elite Force and the Arab forces of the Syrian Democratic Force are the ones who will enter Raqqa in the case of its liberation, God Willing, to clear the excuses that says ‘the Kurds are entering Arab cities and towns.’” he told the Arabic Al-Hayat newspaper, making reference to the Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC).
He explained that this will also avoid ethnic tensions in the city in the case of one force alone, namely Kurds entering Raqqa.
The US-led coalition is providing air support, advice, training, and material to the 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 early February.
In late January, the coalition and the SDF confirmed that the coalition had provided armored vehicles to the SAC.
Jabra added that people in their areas should take upon themselves to reclaim their cities and towns, or else it will create what he termed “immediate problems.”
He had said earlier in February that the Elite Force, which he claimed to number 3,000 and trained by the US-led coalition, is to be deployed to the fight against ISIS militants in Raqqa under the banner of the SDF who have already captured large areas north and west of the ISIS capital.
The SDF, at the time of announcing the second stage of Raqqa operation in December which is dubbed the Wrath of Euphrates, revealed that the Syrian Elite Force will join the military campaign, following a request from the US-led coalition.
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 then.
The al-Ghad al-Souri Movement, which is the political arm of the Elite Force, formed in March 2016. In September the group made an agreement with the Kurdish self-autonomous region in Syria’s Kurdish Rojava administration with respect to governance in their cantons. The group’s head hailed it as a “new chapter of brotherly relations between Arabs and Kurds.”
The US is a staunch supporter of the SDF. They both confirmed that the SAC received in late January several Guardian armored vehicles from the US.
It launched the operation to liberate Raqqa last November and they announced the third stage of the operation to isolate and eventually defeat ISIS in Raqqa this month.
The UK Defense Minister Michael Fallon stated on Saturday evening in Erbil that he is hoping the SDF will complete the isolation stage “by the end of Spring”.
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 had earlier said.
"I hope that isolation will be completed by the spring and then operations to liberate Raqqa itself can begin thereafter," Fallon said.
The US-led anti-ISIS international coalition, which also includes the UK, provide air support and military materiel to the campaign.