US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces launch offensive to reclaim IS capital Raqqa

Erbil, IraqWritten By: Daniele PaganiUpdated: Nov 07, 2016, 04:12 AM IST

A majority of the fighters will be provided by YPG, a Kurdish-dominated force. Washington's decision to support the Kurds comes despite a possible fallout?with Turkey, which has been a crucial ally of the US in their fight against Islamic State. Photograph:(AFP)

The United States-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have launched a massive operation to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of Islamic State in Syria.

SDF on Sunday announced the beginning of Ghadab al-Firat (Anger of the Euphrates) campaign to liberate Raqqa. 

The offensive will see nearly 30,000 soldiers advance towards Raqqa.

The US has promised to provide aerial support to the militia group, just like they did during the battle for Kobane in 2015.

People's Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish-dominated force, is believed to be the backbone of the militia group. Some estimates suggest that 25,000 of the 30,000 fighters will be provided by the YPG. 

The operation to reclaim Raqqa comes amid the ongoing offensive in Mosul, a major military operation bidding to reconquer the Iraqi capital of the Islamic State.

The coordinated attacks mean that the IS faces the prospect of losing its two key towns in Syria and Iraq.

In case of defeat in both towns, it will be very difficult for the jihadist organisation to sustain the caliphate narrative. IS had announced a caliphate after it captured large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria two years back.

Further, the battleground reversals will most likely affect the morale of their remaining fighters in the region.

American gambit

Washington's decision to support the Kurds comes despite a possible fallout with Turkey, which has been a crucial ally of the US in their fight against Islamic State.

Ankara is unhappy with YPG's role in the Raqqa offensive because it believes the group to have strong ties with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). PKK is an insurgent group that has been fighting with Turkey for autonomy of Kurdistan since the 1980s.

Turkey fears that a possible success in Raqqa would give the Kurds the international legitimacy to request for an autonomous region located in Rojava, a vast region in the north of Syria.

Rojava has been under the Kurds ever since they drove IS fighters out of the region in 2014.

The US' alliance with Kurdish fighters come at a time when Turkey has launched a massive crackdown on pro-Kurdish voices in their own country.

The co-leaders of the left-wing pro-Kurdish group People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, were recently arrested along with nine other members of the party for allegedly spreading terrorist propaganda in Turkey.

The alliance between the US and the YPG in Raqqa operation will leave Turkey isolated for the second time in their fight against IS, after Iraq recently disallowed Ankara's participation in the Mosul offensive.

With the US election around the corner, Washington chose the perfect time to declare the Raqqa operation. The announcement has given the US the opportunity to present itself as the most active actor in the fight against IS.