Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Quagmire of the Islamic State Caliphate

"If the Kurdish YPG take the lead and play a serious role in the battle for Raqqa, that will make Turkey very nervous and it would be hard to see Turkey fully cooperate within the coalition."
"Turkey wants to put a barrier to how far the Kurdish YPG can gain influence."
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

"The Raqqa operation should not be conducted by the PYD. The Free Syrian Army with active participation of the local population will be enough to beat IS and Turkey is ready to support this."
"The U.S. must review its policy."
Turkish Foreign Ministry

"The only force that is capable on any near-term timeline are the Syrian Democratic Forces, of which the YPG are a significant portion."
"We think there's an imperative to get isolation in place around Raqqa because our intelligence feeds tell us that there is significant external operations attacks planning going on ... centralized in Raqqa."
U.S. Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, U.S. military commander, Iraq

"After the eventual fall of Mosul and Raqqa, ISIS won't hold territory with a substantial population, and this has distinguished ISIS from groups like al-Qaeda."
"When ISIS loses key territory, the idea of the caliphate becomes patently false, and the group loses its narrative, making recruiting more difficult."
Max Abrahams, professor of political science, Northeastern University, USA

"We are in close close contact with our Turkish allies and that is why the chairman of joint chiefs is in Ankara today."
"We want this to be as coordinated as possible, recognizing that there will be a mix of forces on the field and that many of those forces of course do not see eye to eye, but they do share a very common and still very lethal enemy."
“It is a complex environment in Syria to say the least, but we are constantly in touch with all the different players, and I think in terms of the phasing of the overall Raqqa campaign we have a fairly good understanding of what is to come."
Brett McGurk, Obama administration envoy, U.S.-led coalition
Fighters on parade in 2014 in Raqqa Province in Syria. The city of Raqqa serves as the Islamic State’s de facto capital. Credit Reuters
It is the Kurdish forces that the United States is heavily reliant upon to carry the battle to Islamic State in their Raqqa headquarters. The Mosul offensive is ongoing, and attention was turned from Iraq to Syria, to destroy the caliphate's treasured swathe of territory obliterating the border between Iraq and Syria in the area ISIL captured in its initial vigorous advance when their reputation preceded them as a terrorist menace striking fear into the military of both Syria and Iraq causing opposition to melt away, giving free reign to the jihadists' occupation.

Thanks to the U.S.-led coalition that tide has turned, as gradually with air support the Free Syrian Army has assumed control of the opportunity to face and dispatch the ISIL fighters in Raqqa, with both Kurds and Arabs integrated into a fighting force with that purpose in mind, the Kurdish fighters leading. Their battle prowess has been proven repeatedly in the field so the main offensive falls to them. As it does, tension has gripped the Turkish forces who view Kurds as their enemies.

Since the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) present as the obvious unified force in Syria, they have been recognized as such by the United States authorities present in Syria, even with the foreknowledge that Turkey is likely to be alienated by any operation including the YPG in the battle to destroy ISIS in Raqqa. The armed wing of the Democratic Union Party, the Kurdish YPG, is closely aligned with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which Turkey identifies as terrorists.

The Turkish concern is that as the YPG assumes increased prominence through military gains in Syria, the Kurds in Turkey will be encouraged and inspired to continue their struggle for autonomy matching the intentions of the Syrian Kurds. Since the Syrian Democratic Forces include the Kurdish YPG and the intention is that they will continue to be part of any combat operations in Raqqa, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has no option but to accept the American decision.

A U.S. fighter stands near a military vehicle, north of Raqqa city, Syria November 6, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said

Since American intelligence has uncovered the potential for a terrorist attack targeting the West emanating from Raqqa, it has become even more imperative that the joint plans to oppose ISIL and drive it from Raqqa occur sooner rather than later. To that end, on Sunday, The Syrian Democratic Forces' alliance of Kurdish and Arab armed groups announced their campaign for Raqqa would commence within hours.

Euphrates Anger, as the operation has been dubbed, began with U.S. forces providing air cover. "The general command of the Syria Democratic Forces announces the blessed start of its major military campaign to liberate the city of Raqqa", stated Jehan Sheikh Amad, a spokeswoman for the SDF at a news conference in Ain Issa, a town north of Raqqa. Raqqa's civilian population of almost 200,000 mostly Sunni Arabs were warned by the SDF to avoid those areas dominated by ISIL fighters; to make an effort to move toward "liberated territory".

The SDF was assured by American and British officials that air support would be provided for the offensive. How the offensive, dominated by Kurdish militias planned to proceed lacked details. It is known that they will face an estimated five thousand Islamic State fighters, determined to fight to the last man in a concerted effort to maintain control of the city that has been the transit point for ISIL recruits travelling through the Turkish border to Raqqa and then on to Iraq and the training camps meant to transform them into Islamic State stalwarts.

Realistically speaking, however, the operation will be a long, drawn-out affair. The SDF is aware that Raqqa like Mosul, has been transformed into an ISIL arned warren complete with underground tunnels, booby-trapped buildings, ISIL sharp shooters determined to keep their attackers from the city centre. And since hand-to-hand conflict through cramped city streets lined with houses of civilians will complicate the operation, it is anticipated by U.S. authorities that it can take into the new year for both operations in Mosul and in Raqqa to be concluded.

In which case, it will fall to the incoming President of the United States to make decisions and oversee an operation that the outgoing president failed to see to a conclusion. Whether President Trump will be more decisive and strategy-capable than his predecessor will be a matter for conjecture until such time as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is routed and territory returned to those who anticipate that it will not entirely all be returned to the national administrations whose inability to hold their own against the jihadis caused their loss to begin with.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan's aspirations to acquire for his re-engaged Ottoman-Empire style Turkey disputed territory, will no doubt be dashed as opposition to his plans create the potential for another complex of expanded conflicts, even while Turkey continues to assault its own Kurdish citizens, despite warning from the European Union that Turkey's ongoing human rights abuses will not benefit its aspirations for EU membership. Turkey responding by threatening to open the floodgates of refugees within its borders anxious to tempt fate by washing up on European soil.

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