British Army Major General Rupert Jones, the Deputy Commander-Strategy and Support for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, visits Ain Issa on Sunday, July 23. Photo: SDF Press
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Major General Rupert Jones, deputy commander (strategy and support) in the US-led anti-ISIS Global Coalition, met with the Kurdish-led Raqqa Civilian Council in Syria on Sunday to discuss rehabilitation of infrastructure and basic humanitarian needs.
“The liberation of Raqqa, as with the liberation of Mosul, is not the end. It's actually the start of the process. The real healing starts once the fight is over. The people of Raqqa, the city of Raqqa, will have been through an extraordinarily trauma under Daesh occupation, and that's what I've discussed with the civil council today,” Jones said at a press conference in Ain Issa.
“I've met with this council on four occasions in Ain Issa,” the British Army officer added. “It's an interim council. It's focused on helping the people of Raqqa. It is representative of Al-Raqqa.”
The Coalition partnered Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stated Jones' comes in the midst of "the battle for liberating Raqqa and the Wrath of the Euphrates Campaign that is moving forward to end the existence of the terrorist organization," referencing ISIS.
Omar Alloush, a member of the Raqqa council's relations office, and Abdullah Al-Arian, the director of the services committee, and Abdulsalam Hamsourk, the director of the office of humanitarian organizations, received Jones, the SDF announced.
In video released by ANHA, media affiliated with the local fighters, the British commander is greeted by local officials in Ain Issa, north of the ISIS-held Raqqa city.
According to the SDF statement, Jones discussed what can be done to rehabilitate the infrastructure and the possibility of providing basic services which would help civilians return to their villages.
Alloush told ANHA that while such visits are nothing new, it is important that this time they Coalition offered to help both politically and also in terms of services.
He also reportedly said that their support to the local authorities includes helping with rebuilding infrastructure, including electricity, water, and education. Additionally they will help with providing food for now to the many thousands of the displaced people in the province.
The SDF, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab armed forces, launched an offensive to recapture Raqqa in November of last year.
The US Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition Brett McGurk revealed earlier in July that the current SDF-installed Raqqa Civilian Council is “interim” and that the Council has committed to hold elections by May next year so that the local people would be in charge of their own destiny.
The US envoy visited Raqqa late last month and met with the Raqqa Civilian Council. A Council member had said that it was his third visit to the province.
The US-backed SDF made fast advances against the ISIS militants in Raqqa, making their way into the city’s center and breaking through the Old City. The advances however have slowed back recently, with ISIS militants said to use a network of tunnels and sniper fire as their weapons.
On Thursday, some 250 people recruited from Raqqa graduated from an intensive US-sponsored training in partnership with the SDF that prepares an internal security force to hold and secure the areas liberated from the ISIS militants.
Trainer Wissam, a Kurdish local commander from Ain Isa, told the AP that they have trained a total of 800 recruits so far, including the Thursday's graduates, and have been deployed to different parts of Raqqa province.
The trainer also said that that another 500 are soon to receive training.
AP reported that some American trainers who oversee the force and the preparation attended the graduation in Ain Isa desert on Thursday.
One American official at the site said the Internal Security Forces of Raqqa are not a combat or police force, but are trained to be a hold force in the areas as they are liberated from Islamic State group militants, AP reported.
The Coalition announced on July 20 that ISIS has now lost 73 percent of the territory it once controlled in Iraq in August 2014 and 58 percent of that in Syria.
Territory remaining under ISIS control is in red (through June 2017). Image: Global Coalition