SDF confident can capture Daesh ‘capital’ of Raqqa
Bassem Mroue, Reuters, Mar 10 2017
BEIRUT — Cihan Sheikh Ehmed, spox for the SDF, the main Syrian Kurdish force fighting Daesh in northern Syria, said Friday that it has enough fighters to take Raqqa with the help of the Pindo-led coalition, a veiled warning to Ankara and Turkey-backed opposition forces. CENTCOM chief Gen Votel signaled Thursday that there will be a larger and longer Pindosi military presence in Syria. The SDF spox said their numbers are increasing with more residents of areas newly liberated from Daesh joining the ethnically mixed force. Sheikh Ehmed said:
We have enough forces to liberate Raqqa with the help of the coalition.
She said that the SDF had received intelligence that Daesh was moving some of its leaders outside the city and digging tunnels in preparation for intense street battles much like those underway in Iraq in the western part of the city of Mosul. But the spokeswoman’s remarks are likely to anger Turkey, which has insisted that Syrian opposition fighters backed by Ankara should lead the offensive on Raqqa rather than the SDF, which is dominated by the Kurdish YPG. As the SDF advances in areas close to Raqqa, came as Pindo aircraft pounded areas in the city of Raqqa and its outskirts, according to CENTCOM and Syrian opposition. CENTCOM said 13 strikes engaged targets near Raqqa. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported airstrikes on Raqqa as well as its outskirts. Also Friday, Turkey’s military said Turkish troops and Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces have killed or “neutralized” 71 Kurds in northern Syria this week. Since the Turkish operation started in August, the joint Turkish and Syrian opposition forces have killed as many as 2,647 Daesh and 425 Kurds in Syria, said a Turkish military statement. It added that more than 2,000 sq km in northern Syria are now under control of the Turkish-backed forces. Syria blasted Turkey over its intervention in the country and support for terrorists, saying it has killed thousands, and called on the UNSC to press Ankara to withdraw its troops. On Thursday, Syria’s state media reported that Turkish troops shelled Syrian army positions north of the country, killing and wounding several troops.
SDF fighters have been on the offensive in the Raqqa area since November and have closed major supply roads used by Daesh. They have captured large areas from Daesh since then under the cover of airstrikes of the Pindo-led coalition. Late last month, Pentagon leaders sent a new plan on how to defeat Daesh to the White House, including a variety of options for the ongoing fight in Iraq and Syria. The White House hasn’t yet approved the plans, but the recent deployments into Syria suggest that Pres Trump may be leaning toward giving the Pentagon greater flexibility to make routine combat decisions in the Daesh fight. Sheikh Ehmed said troops from the Pindo-led coalition have increased in northern Syria and are playing a bigger role in the battle for Raqqa. She did not provide any figures regarding the number of Pindo-led coalition troops. Russia is not likely to stay out of the push on Raqqa. Nor are Syrian forces. The Russian military’s Col-Gen Sergei Rudskoi said Friday that Russian warplanes have killed more than 600 militants in one week, and carried out 452 airstrikes in support of the Syrian government forces. In addition, Rudskoi stated that Syrian government forces have recaptured 92 towns and villages across a territory of 479 sq km from IS in the past week.