The United States is working with the Kurds and Turkey on a game plan for defeating ISIS in Raqqa–northeast Syria, US coalition spokesman Colonel John Dorrian said on Friday. However, analysts suggest that Turkish intervention might make the Raqqa operation more difficult.
“We’re now working with the Turkish military and we’re working with our [Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces] SDF partners to come up with the game plan for the way ahead here,” the US-led coalition spokesman said.
“There were some challenges between the SDF and the Turkish military for some period of time. We’re very glad to see that it’s been relatively peaceful between those two. So we’ve opened lines of communication and coordination to make sure that we de-conflict the things that are going on there,” he added.
Dorrian further said that there are only 1,000 ISIS fighters in Raqqa. “Well, in Mosul, we think it’s anywhere from 3,000 to 4,500. And in Raqqa, we think somewhere on the order of 1,000. But these are squishy figures and it’s very difficult to tell,” he said.
“One of the dynamics with that is there are some hardcore fighters. There are people that are not as committed to the fight. There are people that are tolerant, and then there are people that wish they weren’t there,” he added. “So it’s very difficult to give you a very accurate estimate and I think that’s one of the reasons why the numbers tend to fluctuate here.”
The US-led coalition thinks the fall of Manbij, and the securing of the Syrian-Turkish border by Turkish soldiers and Turkish-backed rebels will help the defeat of ISIS.
“I think the fall of Manbij is going to be a very important thing, and the Turkish involvement there, the buffer zone that they’ve built, the securing of that border, certainly also a very positive development and something that is going to further accelerate the campaign,” Dorrian stated.
According to Barak Barfi, who is a Research Fellow for New America Foundation, the Turkish intervention will only 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 told ARA News.
“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,” Barfi said.
Speaking to ARA News, Timur Akhmetov, an independent Russian analyst on the Middle East, said that any cooperation between the SDF and Turkey on Raqqa would require a change in Turkey’s position towards the Kurds.
“It would require a change in Turkey’s position on the PYD [Democratic Union party in Syria]. Currently, taking into account ongoing fight with PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party], any close cooperation between Ankara and PYD seems very unlikely,” he said.
“However, it doesn’t mean that any other form of cooperation is impossible. In February 2015, relocation of the tomb of Suleyman Shah in Syria couldn’t take place without some level of coordination with the PYD,” Akhmetov said.
“In any case, both forces can coordinate their actions against Daesh [ISIS] with every side focusing on its own objective while acting under one command, possibly the US. But still any plans of this kind would require considerable change in PKK policy in Turkey,” he concluded.
Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg
Source: ARA News