US Secretary for Defence Ashton Carter has said that the battle for Raqqa city will begin within weeks. Syrian Kurdish authorities confirmed on Wednesday that they were ready to join the offensive and isolate the Islamic State’s (ISIS) capital.
Aldar Xelil, a board member of the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM), said on Wednesday that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were prepared for the Raqqa operation.
However, the TEV-DEM politician said that there was a condition – Kurdish troops will only take part in the operation if Turkey is kept out of it. “If Turkey doesn’t join then we will participate. We are ready to save the people of Syria,” Xelil said.
“Freeing al-Bab is a discussion topic. As soon as Raqqa is freed from the ISIS gangs, we will besiege al-Bab and liberate it in a much easier way,” Xelil added.
Any operation in Raqqa is likely to be complicated by Turkish and Kurdish enmity. Turkey’s government has repeatedly threatened to destroy the pro-Kurdish SDF.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that the Turkish Army and allied rebel factions are intent on attacking Manbij city, which the SDF forces captured from ISIS in August. “We are determined to clear PYD from Manbij as soon as possible,” he said, in reference to the YPG and other Kurdish SDF factions.
Erdogan also declared that if the SDF did not immediately withdraw east of the Euphrates River, Turkey “would do what’s necessary.” However, the US-led coalition has made clear that it would not accept a Turkey-backed campaign against the SDF in Manbij.
Coalition spokesmen have repeatedly called on both Kurdish-led forces and Turkey-backed rebels to step back from the brink and focus on ISIS.
US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told reports that the US-led coalition is still focused on Raqqa. “We as members of the coalition resolved to follow through with that same sense of urgency and focus on enveloping and collapsing ISIS’ control over Raqqa,” he said.
Russia will be noticeably absent from the battle for Raqqa. Carter explicitly ruled out their participation, saying: “Russia is not [part of] our Raqqa plan.”
The American secretary said that the US-led coalition would soon seize the initiative in Syria. “We’ve already begun laying the groundwork with our partners to commence the isolation of Raqqa. As we meet here, we’re helping to generate the local forces that will do so,” he said.