The Syrian Democratic Forces said on Friday that they would soon begin an attack to retake Raqqa city from Islamic State and that they expected the USA -led coalition to supply them with weapons including armored vehicles as the assault gets under way.
The SDF is dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units [YPG], seen by the U.S. as an indispensable ally in the fight against IS but considered a “terrorist group” by Turkey.
There is plenty of evidence that the YPG has many fighters from the Turkish PKK and other Kurdish factions and that among the group’s military aims has been an attempt to control the Turkish-Syrian border and form a contiguous area with Iraqi Kurdistan and the Kurdish regions of Turkey.
Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag voiced disappointment about what Turkey sees as the USA reluctance to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based cleric accused by Erdogan of being the mastermind of last year’s coup attempt.
But one crucial steppingstone in the campaign to oust the militant group from Raqqa was finally reached Tuesday, when President Donald Trump made a decision to arm Syrian Kurdish fighters poised to move in on the northern Syrian city. Even if Washington could stop the PKK and the YPG from targeting Turkey until the conclusion of the Raqqa operation or until the YPG controls all of Northern Syria, the militants will no doubt turn against Turkey and target a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally with USA weapons.
No newly authorised aid had been delivered yet, Hassan said, but he added that “I believe this support will arrive soon”.
But the battle to capture the area can not happen until the Kurds receive heavy weapons from the U.S. military, according to the Syrian Democratic Forces commander.
The Turkish press, outraged, complained that “the American, Trump, couldn’t even wait six days” for his upcoming meeting with the Turkish president before rushing into the decision. As evidence, it points to USA weapons seized from the PKK – saying they were funneled from the YPG – and the fact that the United States has been unable to dislodge Kurdish fighters from controlling Arab parts of northern Syria that they have seized, with US assistance under Obama, along the Turkish border.
There are risks to arming the YPG. “We keep on explaining that it’s not the only alternative, and they keep saying it’s the only alternative”. Analysts doubt that Trump and Erdogan can come to an agreement during their talks at the White House.
Yildirim said the US officials told Turkey that they can extend all kinds of cooperation to combat the PKK, such as intelligence-sharing and monitoring financial resources. Its forces have been fighting alongside U.S. Special Operations troops and other enemies of the Islamic State in Syria in a long effort to take Raqqa.
Erdogan has responded to the arms announcement with typical bellicosity, raising concerns he will step up attacks on anti-government Turkish Kurds.
The SDF’s increased pressure on ISIS from each flank allowed the partnered forces to accelerate the pace of the fight, clear the final neighborhoods of Tabqa and isolate the dam, he said. The YPG does have Arab allies in its ranks, and the Pentagon should insist that Arabs take the lead in Raqqa.
The coalition said Thursday that Islamic State had moved its external attack planning operations to Tabqa after their defeat in Manbij in order to avoid coalition airstrikes in Raqqa.