All Hands Needed to Take Raqqa, and Soon

The fight to take Raqqa, Syria, from ISIS will require a smaller footprint from the coalition, which is welcoming any groups that can to commit to the mission and move “soon.” Army Lt. Gen Stephen Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said the coalition needs to apply combat support for the push to Raqqa “in a different way than we are doing here in Iraq.” There are about 30,000 US-backed forces in northern Syria, which is enough for a Raqqa operation, said Townsend. The goal is to recruit and train forces from the Raqqa area for the eventual assault and hold force. “One of the factors that’s made our efforts in northern Syria successful to date, is we have recruited … forces from the local area that were part of the assault force to liberate that area. And they form the core of the whole force that will stay,” Townsend said in a Wednesday briefing. He noted that Manbij is a good example of this. The major complication that is arising, however, is that the best force available now for the fight for Raqqa is the Syrian Democratic Forces, a large component of which is the Kurdish YPG—a group at odds with Turkey. While Turkey “doesn’t want to see us operating with the SDF … the facts are these, the only force that is capable on any near term timeline are the Syrian Democratic Forces,” Townsend said. The coalition is negotiating with Turkey, and, “We’re going to take this in steps.” The Raqqa offensive needs to happen “soon,” he said. “We think there’s an imperative to get isolation in place around Raqqa because our intelligence feeds tell us that there is significant external operations attacks planning going on, emanating centralized in Raqqa,” he said. (See also: The Fight Against ISIS, After Mosul and Raqqa.)