Anti-Islamic State coalition begins Raqqah offensive

A coalition of anti-Islamic State groups backed by the United States has officially begun its assault on the jihadist-held city of Raqqah in northern Syria. Raqqah has been controlled by jihadist forces since 2013 and has become the de facto capital of the Islamic State inside Syria.

The US Department of Defense announced the commencement of the operation to liberate Raqqah in a news article on its website.

“The offensive would deliver a decisive blow to the idea of ISIS as a physical caliphate,” according to the DoD.

The push to take Raqqah is led by the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is largely comprised of the Kurdish YPG (or People’s Defense Units). The YPG is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US government for terrorist attacks throughout Turkey. The Turkish government has opposed US support for the YPG.

The US military attempts to mitigate Turkish anger over the support of the YPG by emphasizing the “Syrian Arab Coalition’s” role in the offensive. However, there is no official group known as the Syrian Arab Coalition, it is merely the Arab component of the SDF.

The US military noted that it is “providing equipment, training, intelligence and logistics support, precision fires and battlefield advice” to the SDF for its Raqqah offensive. To emphaisize this point, the US military, in a separate press release that tallied air operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria noted that “24 strikes engaged 18 ISIS tactical units; destroyed 19 boats, 12 fighting positions, eight vehicles, a house bomb and a weapons storage facility; and suppressed an ISIS tactical unit” in and around Raqqah yesterday.

The SDF and the US have shaped the battlefield in northern Syria for months in preparation to advance on Raqqah. But the final push on Raqqah could not be launched until the SDF secured the town of Tabqa and its dam, which are located about 20 miles west. The SDF seized Tabqa on May 11 after six weeks of fighting.

The SDF now controls the terrain north of the Euphrates river from Tabqa all the way to the town of Madan, which is due east of Raqqah. Madan is south of the Euphrates, remains under control of the Islamic State. Raqqah is situated north of the Euphrates, so the SDF does not need to cross the river to take the city.

The fight for Raqqah takes place as Iraqi forces are making their final push to root out the Islamic State in Mosul. The Mosul offensive began six months ago, however, the Islamic State still controls pockets within the city.

While the US military insists that the loss of Raqqah and Mosul will deal a “a decisive blow” to the Islamic State, the group still controls a significant amount of terrain in both Syria and Iraq. The Islamic State still occupies a large area in central and southern Syria, and continues to besiege Syrian military forces in the city of Deir al Zour. The Islamic State controls all of the Euphrates River Valley south of Madan down to the Iraq towns of Rawa and Anah.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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7 Comments

  • Art says:

    Isn’t Madan due WEST of Raqqah? That’s what I’m seeing on Google Maps.

  • Art says:

    Sorry, the Madan I see is SW of Ar Raqqah. Here’s the link to Google Maps:
    http://google-maps.pro/Madan.Syria#35.755200,39.598400,11

  • Nato21 says:

    It’s true that IS is not going to simply go into retirement after they are defeated in Mosul and Raqqah. They are however running out of room to operate. Part of the reason for their battlefield success was the blitzkreig attack tactics they employed. Air power negates that tactic when they have to fight conventional battles out in the open. They’ve probably been stockpiling equipment out in the desert, planning for a last stand. They still have plenty of firepower and willing participants who expect to die but Assad and the RUAF from one side and the Coalition from the other they’re surrounded. Their “Caliphate Era” will be over. IS will just be one of the combatants in the open warfare zone currently called Syria.

  • Doug says:

    We should do more to help the Kurds as they have consistently proven themselves as the only reliable and effective force in the area. If anyone has earned a homeland/territory to call their own, it is them. Turkey can learn to live with them as neighbors.

  • Glenn says:

    Kurds are a fly in the eyes of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran (and claim a bit of Armenia). Turkey has been most aggressive at suppressing them. The entire area, as one author put it, has been “A Peace to End All Peace,” since the Treaty of Versailles arbitrarily redrew the borders in 1919 — “A Line in the Sand.”

  • Nato21 says:

    Another Al Baghdadi is dead report from Raqqah. Been a number of these reports so far and he’s not dead yet, we’ll see. It doesn’t appear to be the meat grinder that Mosul was so far in the Raqqah battle. IS went all in with the Mosul battle. They don’t have anywhere near that level of resources for the Raqqah battle. What happens after that? Let me give the magic 8-ball a spin and I’ll get back to you.

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