ISIS is now under attack in both its Iraqi and Syrian strongholds:
The operation has begun to retake Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State — and it’s a Kurdish woman commanding the Syrian Democratic Forces who could take the city that brings down the caliphate.
The operation called Wrath of Euphrates launched Saturday night and was announced by the SDF alliance today at a press conference in the Syrian town of Ain Issa. The SDF includes nine armed groups including Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and Armenians, and the force pressing down on Raqqa is reportedly 30,000 strong with 80 percent of the fighters originally from the city.
Is the U.S. involved? Secretary of Defense Carter was vague about this. He said: “The international coalition will continue to do what we can to enable local forces in both Iraq and Syria to deliver ISIL the lasting defeat it deserves.”
However, according to Bridget Johnson of PJ Media, “multiple Kurdish news accounts reported U.S. Special Forces soldiers on the ground assisting the SDF.” They should be.
It makes good sense to launch an attack on Raqqa at the same time Iraqi forces are moving to retake Mosul, assuming the force undertaking the Raqqa attack is well trained and large enough to succeed. Even under this assumption, the battle for Raqqa figures to be exceedingly difficult, however.
Women apparently feature prominently in the forces trying to liberate Raqqa. As noted, a Kurdish commander, Rojda Felat, is a joint commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). She says that there are “very many” women’s units under the SDF umbrella, including Arab and Assyrian women fighters. “People are joining the SDF and YPJ [Kurdish Women’s Defense Units] by the droves,” she adds.
Female fighters pose a special problem for ISIS. According to Felat, ISIS fighters believe they won’t be admitted into paradise if they’re killed by a woman. No paradise, no virgins.
So far, Kurdish forces have liberated at least half a dozen villages near Raqqa. However, they have taken several dozen casualties, including 14 who were killed by a suicide bombing.
Planning for the Raqqa offensive has been complicated by Turkey’s concerns about expanding Kurdish influence in northern Syria. Turkey says that Raqqa will be the target of its own operation against ISIS, to be waged with the help of Syrian rebels. However, the SDF rejects the idea of Turkish involvement in the Raqqa campaign. It has often clashed with Turkish-backed Syrian rebels.
Turks or no Turks, it’s game on in Raqqa. One hopes the U.S. will provide plenty of support to the forces attempting to drive ISIS from the center of its would-be caliphate.