The United States is doubling-down on its Syrian allies, insisting they are capable of planning and launching an assault to dislodge the Islamic State terror group from its self-styled capital of Raqqa.
For more than a week, officials have spoken of the urgent need to begin the assault on the IS stronghold despite concerns about the readiness of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the objections of allies, like Turkey.
But a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve said Thursday the SDF is ready to at least start encircling the city while planning for its eventual liberation.
“We do believe that they have the expertise,” Col. John Dorrian told Pentagon reporters during a briefing from Baghdad.
“They were very successful in developing a plan for the liberation of Manbij,” he said. “And we believe that certainly, with coalition help, they can do the same in Raqqa.”
Airstrikes take out roads
Already, the U.S. says it has conducted more than 100 airstrikes to take out roads used by IS to move both fighters and supplies in and out of Raqqa.
But now officials say they want to “tighten the noose,” using 30,000 to 40,000 SDF troops to encircle and move towards the city to further reduce the ability of IS to maneuver.
The plan, though, has run into stiff opposition from Turkey, which has made it clear it wants the U.S. to wait.
“It would be better both militarily and strategically to conduct this operation after the Mosul operation and Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation are completed,” Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told reporters in Ankara on Monday.
Turkey has also voiced objections due to the make-up of the SDF, almost two-thirds of which is Kurdish.
Some of the most capable and effective of those Kurdish forces are People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which Ankara regards as a terrorist organization.
More forces needed
Further complicating matters is that even the U.S. admits not all the forces needed to liberate Raqqa from IS hands are in place.
“There is an intent to enlarge the force, and in particular, the Arab contingent of the force because we do understand that Raqqa is primarily an Arab city,” said Operation Inherent Resolve’s Col. Dorian.
“We intend to train as many of them as we possibly can,” he said, adding that once recruited, the new forces could be ready to fight within a couple of weeks.