Erbil – The outgoing US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said that the city of Raqqa needs to be taken, since it’s the capital of the ISIS self-proclaimed Caliphate, and that’s why the US sent an additional 203 Special Forces and armed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with ammunition.
“We need to take Raqqa in Syria, because Raqqa is the so-called capital of their so-called caliphate. We need to take it out of their hands,” he said on Wednesday.
Carter added that the Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the US-led coalition, are closing in on Raqqa. “Our partners in Syria are now about 15 miles from Raqqa [city], again completing the envelopment and ultimately the seizure of Raqqa,” he said.
According to the Secretary of Defense, there are now in total 503 US Special Forces operating in northern Syria, after an additional 203 were sent to support SDF forces near Raqqa.
“Those forces are continuing to be generated, that is to be identified, to be trained, equipped and planned,” Carter said. “When I talk about the 203 on top of the 300 that are there already, these are people who connect our tens of thousands of people in the theater and many more in the coalition military to that growing force for Raqqa.”
“So they are not the force itself, they are the connection. But it was important for us to increase the number of people who were in that special forces connection in anticipation of a larger and more complex operation,” he stated. “So it had long been part of our plan that when we got to this point in the Raqqa campaign, we would need to increase that element,” he concluded.
The Syrian Democratic Forces announced the beginning of the second phase of the Euphrates Wrath Operation last Saturday. While the first phase focused on securing both banks of the Balikh River, the second phase aims “at liberating the western countryside of Raqqa.”
The SDF and the US-led coalition have liberated 37 km2 so far as part of the second phase of the operation. During the first phase of Euphrates Wrath, which was launched on November 6, SDF soldiers captured an area measuring approximately 560 km2. The long-term objective of Euphrates Wrath is the elimination of the Islamic State in its de facto capital, Raqqa city.
“In their march toward Raqqa, the SDF have already liberated dozens of villages and more than 700 square miles of ISIS-held terrain. Local Arab fighters continue to join the [Kurdish-led] SDF and fight to liberate their own land,” the US-led coalition said in a statement obtained by ARA News.
The US special forces are backing the SDF with training and advice.
“The Coalition supports the SDF through training, advise and assist operations, airstrikes and material support. Since the start of the operation the Coalition conducted more than 300 strikes delivering more than 850 munitions in support of its partners on the ground to enable the isolation of Raqqa and defeat of ISIS in Syria,” the coalition added.
Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News