Will it be Turks, FSA or Kurds in Syria’s Raqqa?

The Department of Defence (DoD) will submit the results of a review of the department’s strategy to defeat the Islamic State (IS) group to the White House, Pentagon press operations director Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters this morning.

In a memorandum sent to the DoD on 28 January, President Donald Trump ordered the Defense Department to come up with a new plan within 30 days to defeat IS.

Mike Pompeo, President Trump’s pick to head the country’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was in Turkey on 10 February while the USA’s highest ranking military officer, Joseph Dunford, met with Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar at NATO’s Incirlik airbase in the south of Turkey last week. Turkish officials announced that Raqqa was top of the agenda in both meetings.

The Turkish state is determined to avert the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) progress towards Raqqa, hoping to convince the US to conduct the operation with the Turkish army instead.

In his trip to Bahrein early February, Erdogan said, “The step we took [in al-Bab] is locked onto a target. After this, if we can take joint steps with coalition forces, we will head towards Manbij and Raqqa.”

To a question from reporters joining him in his visit to Germany last week on what Turkey’s response would be if the US entered Raqqa with the YPG, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim replied, “We hope that they don’t decide on something like that. If they do, there will be serious problems in our relationship with the USA.”

Although US Defense Secretary James Mattis told his Turkish counterpart Fikri Isik in Brussels last week, “We already have an A plan, you can come up with plan B [for Raqqa],” experts say they would not be surprised if the US adopted a completely new military policy.

Terri Moon Cronk, a reporter for DoD News, today wrote, “Captain Jeff Davis said the review [of anti-IS strategy] is due early next week, and added, ‘we’re on track to deliver it on time’.”

“The captain called the review a comprehensive, whole-of-government plan. ‘It will address ISIS globally’,” Cronk reported.

While this debate continues, at least until the US officially announces its strategy next week, the SDF is only four kilometres from urban Raqqa’s northern neighbourhoods.

With the SDF about to enter the IS’s de facto capital, rendering the current discussions futile, Raqqa may well turn out to be the pacesetter for US-Turkey relations, and concurrently, US-Kurdish relations.