The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Saturday announced they were launching the 3rd phase of the Wrath of Euphrates operation targeting the liberation of the Islamic State (IS) held Raqqa.
In its statement read today by the SDF’s female commander, Cihan Shekh Ahmed, the group said, “in the third phase of the operation we are going to liberate -with the help of local citizens- the villages to the east of Raqqa from Daesh (IS) oppression. With the support of local tribes, leaders and air and special forces’ support from the international [US-led] coalition, we are going to liberate the area.”
The latest phase of the military operation aims to completely encircle the city and sever all roads to militant strongholds in Deir al-Zor province, on the Iraq border. An SDF commander told Reuters that their forces had already progressed a few kilomentres (miles) to capture areas to the east of the city.
It is thought a few hundred American special forces soldiers are also participating in the operation. US support for the SDF, which is dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a group Turkey sees as affiliated to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has created tensions between Washington and Ankara.
The delivery on Tuesday of armored vehicles to the SDF escalated tensions between the NATO allies, however the US has said it is only supporting the Syrian Arab Coalition within the SDF and rejected claims of support for the YPG. Talal Silo, a leading commander in the SDF recently told Reuters that support for the group had increased following Donald Trump’s inauguration but that this was not enough.
The Washington Post recently reported that the Trump administration abandoned plans by the previous Obama government to support the SDF in capturing Raqqa. However the new US President signed an executive order last week requesting the Pentagon, joint chiefs of staff and other agencies to submit a preliminary plan in 30 days for defeating the Islamic State.
The SDF is a multi-ethnic fighting force formed of Kurdish, Arab, Syriac and Turkmen factions. The reportedly 50,000 strong military force is affiliated to the Syrian Democratic Council, which supports a federal solution to the Syrian crisis, and is active in the north of the country.