US prefers Syrian moderate rebels retake Raqqa instead of Assad regime

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Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Raqqa. File photo

ARA News 

ERBIL – Operation Inherent Resolve spokesperson Col. Steve Warren said that the United State prefers the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to take Raqqa, “not the Syrian regime”.

The Syrian regime recently has advanced in the city of Palmyra, and might be planning to take Raqqa with Russian support in the future. 

However, Col Steve Warren, says that the Syrian Kurdish-Arab alliance, known as the SDF, is “the best forces to recapture and secure both Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor”. 

“We believe that the moderate Syrian opposition forces [SDF], who we have supported and are continuing to support are the appropriate forces to enter Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, because they will bring with them goals that are in alignment with our goals, which is a peaceful and prosperous Syria,” Col Warren said. 

“There is certainly no evidence that Bashar al-Assad has interest in anything other than continuation of his brutal and ruthless dictatorship,” he added.

However, Warren emphasized that so far there is no rat race for retaking Raqqa–the de-facto capital of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

“Well, nobody’s going to get to Raqqa anytime soon, frankly, neither the Russians nor the SDF.  This is going to require a significant generation of combat power; this is going to require significant shaping operations in and around the area,” he said.

“So, right now, there is certainly no race on, but we’ll have to see what the future holds,” he added.

The Syrian Kurdish leadership has indicated that the Kurds want to secure Raqqa in order to safeguard the security of the Kurdish areas in northern Syria.

“Raqqa is now the capital of ISIS, and also for Rojava [Syria’s Kurdish region] it is a priority to retake Raqqa because most of the ISIS-led attacks in Kobane were launched from Raqqa,” PYD leader Salih Muslim said mid March at the yearly Sulaimani forum, organized by the American University of Iraq Sulaimani (AUIS).

Foreign fighters who talked to ARA News, said it would be a hard fight. 

“Let’s take Raqqa, it would be good if it falls. This would be hard fight though, and is going to take a lot of casualties on both sides,” said Heval Zirek, a Norwegian fighter in the ranks of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)–which leads the SDF.

“I hope the YPG goes in [Raqqa], it would be a huge victory for them, like Kobane,” Zirek told ARA News.

Heval Ernesto, a French volunteer in Kobane, said that a battle for Raqqa would be difficult. 

“If they [US-led coalition] make big air support and shoot at everything shooting at us, I am confident we [YPG-SDF] will win, but without big support from the US it would be a bloodbath. We would have to be ready to loose 3,000 or 4,000 people,” he told ARA News. “In Kobane alone we lost 1,500, and Raqqa is much bigger.”

“It will not be our town and they [ISIS militants] will have time to prepare themselves for the operation,” he added. “They could prepare for an underground battle,” he stated.

FSA-commander Abu Isa ar-Raqqawi who works with the YPG says it’s clear that ISIS is preparing for the future operations. “They are digging trenches around the city and are preparing for this. But the main point is how we are armed,” he told ARA News.

The commander asked the US-led coalition to hurry up with the operation. “It is going to be too late, young people are forced to join ISIS and they are going to use our people against us. It’s going to be too late if we don’t have the right ammunition to start this operation,” he said.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg 

Source: ARA News 

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