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HASAKAH – US analysts say the Raqqa operation, which is the ultimate objective of Washington in the fight against ISIS in Syria, is now being hampered by competition between Kurdish-led forces and the Turkey-backed rebels over northern Aleppo.
“I’m not going to put a timeline on it, but you know our ultimate objective here is Raqqa. The secretary has made clear that [Raqqa] as their [ISIS] capital of their so-called caliphate, is a key objective here and will be a difficult objective,” Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook said on Thursday.
But analysts say that this will be much more complicated now that Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Turkey-backed rebels now already are in a tense situation over Jarabulus, with Turkey firing artillery on SDF positions a few kilometers from Jarabulus, beside some standoffs between the two groups that took place over the last few days.
“In the short term I think this complicates plans to take Raqqa, but the truth is the foundations for doing so were not in place anyway,” Faysal Itani, a resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council said.
“Kurdish forces had no desire to do it, and Arab forces were unable to. Turkey’s involvement raises the urgency of grabbing territory for both the Kurds and Turkey’s rebel allies, mostly in Aleppo province. Raqqa will have to wait,” he told ARA News.
According to Itani, the recent statements of anti-ISIS envoy Brett McGurk show a shift in the US policy backing both Turkey and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
“His statements highlight the United States’ ongoing attempts to reconcile reliance on local Kurdish-led forces fighting ISIS with partnership with a NATO ally [Turkey] and its professional military, which is also fighting ISIS,” he said.
“This is an inherently unstable triangle because of deep and, frankly, irreversible Turkish-Kurdish hostility. Kurdish forces in particular are wary of a US-Turkish compromise that would marginalize the former,” Itani told ARA News.
“But Turkish involvement in Syria is not yet deep enough to eliminate the US need for the SDF, and may never be. So the balancing act continues for now,” he concluded.
Henri Barkey, director of the Mideast program at the Wilson Center in Washington, believes that the US backs Turkey for two reasons.
“By participating it keeps a close eye on Turkish moves, including any against the SDF Ankara may be tempted to do and by being there it takes away the Turks’ political arguments,” Barkey told ARA News.
He pointed out that the aim is to help diffuse Turkish anger after the failed coup attempt. Turkey argued that the US did not condemn the coup strong enough, and blamed the US for hosting Fethullah Gulen, a sect leader whose movement was blamed by pro-government circles in Ankara for creating the coup in Turkey.
“It will work if the US is very persuasive about limiting either side’s incentive to spark clashes,” he said.
“Raqqa may not be the next target anyway; Mosul seems to be the one. The Kurds may not want to move against Raqqa given how costly the battle for Manbij was,” he said, in reference to the Raqqa operation.
“Therefore the focus is likely to be on Mosul. More importantly, the YPG will want to test US commitments. In fact Manbij may not have been a Kurdish target but rather the coalition’s. While Manbij helped the Kurds get battle distinction, it is the US that was more interested in Manbij because it is key strategically,” he said.
Speaking to ARA News, Nicholas Heras, a Washington-based Middle East researcher at the Centre for a New American Security, stressed the complications of the upcoming Raqqa operation.
“The trick for the U.S. will be what to do about Raqqa. The Turks do not want the SDF to seize the city, but Turkey has shown no willingness to be the lead military force to take the city and the Turkish-backed Syrian rebels are not either,” he said.
“For the U.S. capturing Raqqa and showing that ISIS is on its way to collapse is the most important objective. If the SDF can stage the campaign to capture Raqqa before the Turks can mobilize their Syrian proxies to do it, the U.S. will continue with the SDF,” Heras added.
“At this point in time, the status of Afrin [Kurdish city in northwestern Syria] is more likely than not to be put on hold by the US,” the analyst said. “The United States only wants to advance the ISIS fight.”
Also, Barak Barfi, a Research Fellow for New America Foundation, told ARA News that the Turkish entry will complicate the Raqqa operation.
“The entry of Turkey into the Syrian conflict will have negative ramifications for any potential operation against the ISIS de facto capital of Raqqa,” he said. “The YPG [a Kurdish force and leading member of the SDF] is now focused on a lurking battle with the Turks, not a distant ISIS threat. Local politics have finally caught up with the American campaign against ISIS.”
Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg
Source: ARA News
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