Major General Rupert Jones, the deputy commander of the anti-ISIS Coalition, said that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will most likely take Raqqa –not the Turkey-led factions that are bogged down in al-Bab.
“The force that looks most likely capable of conducting the liberation of Raqqa remains the SDF. Are we confident in the SDF? Absolutely we are,” the British commander said.
“They re-took Manbij, in a very tough fight, and they prevailed in the face of a tough opposition,” Maj Gen Jones continued. “We’ve seen their fighting spirit, we’ve seen what they’re capable of doing.”
“We’ve also always said that we would discuss with our partners, in terms of who is best placed to conduct the actual liberation of Raqqa. We’ll do that, we’ll have those conversations,” he added.
President Erdogan said last week that after securing al-Bab, Turkey’s Euphrates Shield Operation would target Manbij and Raqqa city. Maj Gen Jones said that the Coalition was following those developments and had shared its “thoughts with the new US administration and the CIA.”
The Turkish daily Yeni Safak also reported that the Turkish military would attack Tel Abyad, an SDF-held town. The pro-government newspaper said that Turkey and its allies could also push south towards Raqqa, using al-Bab as their starting point.
US Chief of Staff, General Joe Dunford, will arrive in Turkey on Friday to discuss the Raqqa operation and the wider campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS) with Turkish officials.
Coalition general Rupert Jones was unstinting as he praised the capabilities of the SDF. “We as a coalition have said all along that the Syrian Democratic Forces with the Arabs will fight to isolate Raqqa, and that’s exactly what they’re doing and they’re doing it very effectively.”
“They’re pushing the enemy back, they’re writing down the enemy’s capabilities and they’re closing on the city of Raqqa as we speak, exactly as they said they would,” the British general stated. “We’re confident that they’ll be able to retake Raqqa when the time comes –of course with coalition support.”
General Jones further said that it’s up to the SDF to decide whether the People’s Protection Units (YPG) should be included in the fight. “The bulk of the force that is advancing on Raqqa are Arabs. The Arabs and the Kurds actually work hand-in-glove, and my expectation is if the SDF are to assault into Raqqa, that is how they’ll operate,” he said.
According to the SDF, nearly 70 percent of the fighters participating in the Euphrates Wrath Campaign are Arabs. The Coalition commander said that the Kurds and Arabs will “work together in concert with each other, but the majority of the fighters will be Arabs and we, the Coalition, will be there to support them.”
Since the SDF launched the battle for Raqqa on November 5, they’ve captured more than 3,900 square kilometers of territory as they advance from the northwest, and now northeast of the city.