Raqqa operation to last months, says YPG commander

YPG Commander Rojda Felat talks to other YPG fighters leading the Operation Wrath of Euphrates to capture the Islamic State (IS) stronghold in Syria, Raqqa.

A leading commander in the operation to capture IS stronghold in Syria, Raqqa, has told Reuters the operation will likely last several months.

Rojda Felat, a member of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is a leading component in the Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) also said the operation, scheduled to start at the beginning of April could be delayed to the middle of the month.

“I believe that it [Raqqa operation] will last for a number of months, because it requires us to completely control Tabqah firstly, and to organise the campaign plans very well, and to get civilians out of the city,” she said.

The delay is thought to be a result of the stalled operation at the Tabqah Dam, some 40km to the west of Raqqa. Felat told Reuters that booby traps and threats by the jihadist group to destroy the dam had prolonged the operation, but that it would be taken within the next few days.

“If the weather conditions are helpful and our military plans are good, we will take (the dam) in two or three days.”

The General Commander of the YPG, Sipan Hemo, had recently said the operation to take Raqqa would start at the beginning of April and “not take more than a number weeks.”

The global anti-IS coalition, which is supporting the SDF has yet to confirm when or how the final assault on Raqqa will begin.

The recent death of hundreds of civilians in a US airstrike in Mosul and the presence of at least 200,000 civilians – according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – in Raqqa, are all complications. Turkey’s objections are also thought to be a factor as Ankara views the YPG as a “terrorist” group affiliated to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The SDF have encircled the city from the north, west and east. The Euphrates River borders the city from the south, leaving little way out for IS militants.

Felat also stated that support for the SDF had increased in the latest phase of the operation with “heavy and medium weapons, anti-armour weapons and artillery” being provided.

“They [US forces] are positioned behind our frontline forces, 2 or 3 km away,” she added.

A former literature student, Felat is thought to be one of a thousand women participating in the operation. The Kurdish commander lost 20 family members in a suicide attack in 2016.

“I joined the YPG out of desire as a women to defend my people and to defend my existence as a woman,” she said.

7,000 people have fled to SDF controlled areas from villages outlying Tabqah.