US says no indication yet who will liberate Raqqa from ISIS

IS-held Islamic Court in Syria's Raqqa. File photo

ARA News 

ERBIL – The United States government said it is unclear yet who will liberate the ISIS-held Syrian northeastern city of Raqqa, although the Kurds have said defeating the Islamic State in Raqqa would be a priority for them. 

The US said the gains made by the Syrian regime backed by Russian forces in Palmyra against the Islamic State (ISIS) is “a good thing”, but it’s still not perfect. “We certainly looked at the liberation of Palmyra as a good thing. That city has suffered tremendously under ISIL [ISIS]– not only the people of Palmyra, of course, but also the destruction of a vast amount of its antiquities,” said Mark C. Toner, Deputy Spokesperson of the US state department on Friday.

“We’ve seen the same thing on the part of the regime forces who certainly made advances on – and around Palmyra. And this is, I think, part and parcel of what we’ve seen in Iraq as well, which is that Daesh is under increasing pressure from all sides and from different components and different groups, different governments,” Toner said. 

“I mean, it is somewhat of a rare thing to have the kind of unity of purpose – that everyone recognizes how evil Daesh is, how destructive it is to the region and to the world, that you have such, as I said, a unity of purpose to go out and destroy and defeat Daesh on the ground,” the spokesperson added.

However, he also said “it’s a bit of a – it’s a difficult thing for people to be liberated from Daesh [ISIS], only to fall under the rule of a regime that has brutalized its own people. So it’s hardly a win-win situation, to be perfectly candid.” 

The spokesperson said the US had no indication yet who will liberate Raqqa. “In terms of who might liberate Raqqa first, we just don’t – it’s – we’re not there yet. There’s still a lot of hard fighting and – by all parties involved that lies ahead,” he said. “We’re going to continue our pressure working with the coalition, working with the various groups that we’re working with on the ground in Syria as well as in Iraq to continue to squeeze Daesh as much as possible.” 

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

“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 told ARA News.

However, some experts suggests the Kurdish short-term goals of fighting the ISIS in Hasakah and Raqqa align with Washington’s endgame objective to destroy the group. “But the PYD’s long-term ambitions differ from those of Washington. Empowered by U.S. airstrikes, the Kurds have achieved their aims in those provinces. Their primary goal is now to close the remaining border gaps, not march on Raqqa city, as Washington want,” Barak Barfi, a research fellow at the New America Foundation, wrote in a policy paper for the Washington Institute. 

Kurdish leaders, however, suggested that it is a priority for the Kurds to take Raqqa.

“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). 

Also, experts suggest it’s better to take the city of Raqqa from ISIS militants sooner than later.

“This time, too, cooperation with Syrian Kurds will infuriate [Turkish President] Erdogan, but the stakes in Europe are far too dire,” according to Henri J. Barkey, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. “Another series of bomb attacks could trigger massive political shifts. The sooner Raqqa is liberated from ISIS, the sooner ISIS will be defeated, and, in turn, the sooner the United States and the coalition will be able to focus on the real issue in Syria: its regime’s future. Defeating ISIS may give the West a respite from terrorism, but it is the reconstitution of Syria that will start resolving the refugee crisis.” 

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg 

Source: ARA News 

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