‘Raqqa final offensive to launch in April, liberation in a matter of weeks’ says YPG commander

YPG and YPJ fighters during a funeral of one of their comrades

A leading commander of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has said the final assault on the Islamic State (IS) stronghold in Syria will begin at the start of April.

In a written reply to Reuters’ questions, YPG commander Sipan Hemo said the matter was decided and that the operation to “storm and liberate Raqqa” would begin at the start of April and “not take more than a number weeks.”

Anti-IS operation “Inherent Resolve” spokesman, Col. John Dorrian, recently confirmed the participation of the YPG, but said the US had not decided on how the operation would be conducted.

The participation of the YPG has been a major point of disagreement between the US and Nato ally Turkey, which views the Kurdish group as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been fighting Ankara for autonomy for more than three decades.

Turkish officials have rejected YPG participation and called for the US to launch the operation with Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups, almost all of whom are Islamists.

The YPG is the leading component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a majority Kurdish-Arab alliance that is spearheading the assault on the IS’ de-facto capital. Initially mostly constituted of Kurdish fighters, the SDF has recruited several thousand Arab fighters to reflect the ethnic make-up of Raqqa.

“Of the total force for storming Raqqa, 25 percent are YPG, who are set apart in their combat experience and high-level command skills directing battles in cities,” Hemo said, confirming that the majority of the force would be Arab.

Hemo also told Reuters that the preparations for the final assault were advanced in regards to weapons, equipment and number of fighters. “Raqqa has already been encircled and isolated on three sides – the west, north and east,” he said.

Images recently emerging from northern Syria have shown a significant number of armoured vehicles delivered to the SDF. The US-led coalition also announced that a 1,000 Marines had been deployed to the area, adding to the 500 US Special Forces already there.