Coalition commander says Raqqa police force paid by US as vetted force

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Fighters of the SAC received US arms to combat ISIS in Raqqa alongside other factions of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Photo: CENTCOM Twitter

ARA News

Major General Rupert Jones, the deputy commander of the US-led coalition against ISIS, said that the Raqqa Internal Security Force (RISF) are paid by the United States as a vetted opposition force.

“So the Raqqa Internal Security Force are a vetted force, and so are being paid as part of the U.S. process.  You know, they’re essentially a Syrian opposition force, and they’re a vetted Syrian opposition force.  So that is how they are trained and equipped,” General Jones said.

“And clearly it’s for others to comment downstream in terms of how that may play out over time,” he added.

The first 50 RISF members were trained in May weeks before the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) for the first time entered Raqqa on the 6th of June.

According to coalition and SDF officials, the RISF were established to provide security to these areas liberated by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

There are now a 1,000 strong force that man checkpoints and provide security to areas liberated from ISIS near Raqqa.

RISF forces receive a week-long training from coalition forces that include first aid, law of armed conflict, setting up and manning checkpoints, and also temporary detention operations.

“They work for the Raqqa Civil Council and, they’re local, they’re Raqqawis. They’re representative of the population and the demographic of Raqqa. About 80 percent of the RISF is Arab, and about 20 percent are Kurds,” coalition spokesperson Colonel Ryan Dillon said in mid August.

According to the deputy coalition commander Rupert Jones now large parts of Raqqa province are already secured by the RISF.

“So the bulk of Raqqa province is already secured by the Raqqa Internal Security Force.  So the areas north of the city, west, east of the city, and in the south city, down around Tabqa.  And the RISF have started taking over some of the districts of Raqqa,” he said.

“Once the Syrian Democratic Forces are sufficiently confident that security is stable, then they are handing off those outer districts to the RISF so they, of course, can then concentrate their fighting power closer to the front,” he added.

“When the SDF commanders feel that security is good enough, they’ll liaise with the Raqqa Internal Security Force and the area is literally handed off.  So it’s really a judgment about is security good enough, is it stable enough, are we confident there aren’t about to be Daesh counterattacks, and then the handoff takes place.  And, just so you know, while you talk about the Raqqa Internal Security Force, I mean, they’re still a relatively new organization,” he concluded.

Moreover, the coalition general said he visited the training of the RISF last week. “I’ve seen them out and about all over Raqqa province, and they’re doing a really good job.  Of that, there’s no doubt.  They are overwhelmingly Arab, the people coming in.  They’re self-defining them as — when they come into the training as Arab.  They are very firmly from the areas that are being liberated,” he added.

“It’s a good job.  You get paid, you get uniform and get to secure your own village, because you go back and you secure the areas you’re from.  And that’s very appealing,” he stated.

“When I visited their training, I’ve been really struck. Your young, motivated, fit-looking men are coming forward to be part of the Raqqa Internal Security Force.  And what we see on the streets is that they’re doing a good job.  It’s low-level security, it’s checkpoints, it’s just maintaining.  It’s building confidence in the people,” he emphasized.

“And what you also see is them treating the people with dignity and respect, not least because, of course, they’re from their own villages.  So it’s a pretty smart way forward.  Long way to go, but positive steps by the Raqqa Internal Security Force,” he concluded.

Until now, the US-backed SDF forces have liberated around 55 to 60 per cent of Raqqa city and still around 10,000 to 25,000 civilians remain in the city. Moreover, the coalition believes around 2,500 ISIS fighters remain in the city, with the majority of them being foreign fighters.

“An inclusive, effective, and accountable police force is the foundation of a local security force that can support stability and good governance. The Trump administration has made it clear that it will pursue a strategy of supporting stability in post-ISIS Raqqa,” Nicholas A. Heras is a Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), working in the Middle East Security Program told ARA news about the Raqqa internal security force.

“One of the best means to accomplish that strategy is to stand up a competent and respected police force for Raqqa. Raqqa is a communally complex area, and the Americans have learned from their experiences in post-Saddam Iraq, in similarly communally complex areas like Kirkuk, if they don’t set a strong foundation for local security immediately after ISIS, there could be big problems down the line. These problems could include inter-communal conflict, and the return of ISIS,” he concluded.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News

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