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SDF continue to advance while parties jostle to lead Raqqa offensive

By Rudaw 22/2/2017
The SDF have crossed into Deir ez-Zur province as they continue to isolate Raqqa. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP
The SDF have crossed into Deir ez-Zur province as they continue to isolate Raqqa. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Russia and Turkey have both said they are ready to work with the United States to defeat ISIS in Raqqa as the Pentagon works to develop new strategies to defeat the militant group. 

Russia’s defense minister said their forces could begin working with the US without delay. 

“We have everything at our disposal for cooperating effectively. Absolutely everything. There are no hindrances to starting this work together. If we are to use very specific terms, today it might be possible to start joint operations in Raqqa,” Sergey Shoigu said when addressing a university audience on Tuesday, Russia’s Tass news agency reported.

He said that it was time for the two nations to “begin calm, constructive and systematic work to achieve at least the level of relations that there was five to seven years ago.”

Russia entered the complicated battle space of Syria in September 2015, militarily backing the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. 

US Defense Secretary James Mattis said political leaders of the two nations were ready to engage and “find common ground,” but the US was “not in a position right now to collaborate on the military level.” He made his comments speaking at a NATO conference in Brussels last week. 

NATO ally Turkey has also proposed coordinating with the US to retake Raqqa. Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Sunday that Ankara would like to see the US work with Turkey’s ally in Syria, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), rather than the American’s current allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). 

“[T]he job should be done worthily of a strategic partnership, a NATO alliance,” Yildirim said. 

Turkey objects to the US’ alliance with the SDF because of the Syrian force’s Kurdish elements. Turkey considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a dominant force within the SDF, an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). 

Mattis, who was tasked by US President Donald Trump, to devise new strategies to defeat ISIS, has been meeting with allies including Turkey and Iraq. “We are still sorting it out. The allies are working together, they are sharing planning and that’s ongoing,” he told reporters after his first visit as defense chief to Baghdad. “The planning is still underway. It’s not been all decided. We are working together to sort it out.”

While the planning and discussions are ongoing, the SDF continued to advance on the ground in their campaign to isolate Raqqa. Their forces crossed into Deir ez-Zur province for the first time on Tuesday. The current phase of their offensive is focused on cutting off routes between Raqqa and Deir ez-Zur.

“Military operations of the SDF are now taking place within the provincial boundaries of Deir ez-Zur, from the north – so via southern Hasaka,” a Kurdish military source told Reuters. 

“Our entry into Deir ez-Zur was a big surprise [for ISIS], and there will be more surprises coming,” Abu Khawlah, head of the Deir ez-Zur Military Council, told AFP.

On Wednesday, SDF forces on two fronts met up northeast of Raqqa, encircling a pocket of villages still held by ISIS, local media reported.


fermine | 22/2/2017
1. The Trump administration is already under fire from both Republicans and Democrats alike for kneeling down to the Russians, there's zero chance of any military cooperation there. 2. Neither Turkey or their proxies can liberate Raqqa, not even with US air support, they've proved this in Al-Bab. Nor will they be welcomed by the Arab tribes around Raqqa 3. It's almost unbelievable but the United States Russia Assad and Iran all have differnet objectives in Raqqa, every one of them expect for Turkey can acheive their objectives with Kurdish help
Dutchman | 22/2/2017
Russia and the Assad regime did not manage to do anything agains IS, except taking Palmyra and running away when IS returned. Assad, Putin and Erdogan now see that the SDF with support of the coalition can do what they can't. They are afraid that more and more arabs will join the SDF and that they will not only overthrow IS, but also the Assad regime. Thanks for your offers, Putin, Assad and Erdogan, but Syria is better of without you guys.
FAUthman | 22/2/2017
On Raqqa, US "plan A" continues: working with the SDF local force. Russia and Turkey keep making separate offers to work with the US on Raqqa, but Mattis has a polite "NO" for an answer: "thank you, we will study your proposal and make a decision by the end of the month", but made it very clear "we are not ready to work militarily with Russia".
FSA | 22/2/2017
For heaven sake don't work with Turkey to free Raqqa. FSA is Isis. American had terrible experience with FSA. American trained them armed them and FSA then disappeared with the arms and join Isis. That is why al BB is still not conquered yet. They are not interested in fighting Isis but Syrian regime. FSA will lose. That is for sure.
Nam | 23/2/2017
FSA is Turkish invented euphemism for Jihadists. Turkish supported FSA is Ahrar Al Sham, a Salafi Jihadist group who subscribes to the same radical Islamist ideology as ISIS and Erdogan of Turkey. FSA is neither free, nor Syrian nor an Army. They are a bunch of Jihadi thugs and terrorists!

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