U.S. Eyes Syrian Air Base, Kurdish Forces Overshadow Arabs in Raqqa Plans

As the battle for Raqqa city draws closer, a rebel spokesperson laments Kurdish domination of upcoming operations, also predicting that American forces will remain in Raqqa for years at the airbase they seized from ISIS last week, Alsouria Net writes

What is occurring in the northeast countryside of Raqqa is at the head of the complicated military scene in Syria, with the continuing confrontations between forces of the Islamic State (ISIS) and the U.S.-led coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces militia, of which Kurdish militias comprise the biggest portion.

The coalition has thrown its weight into the ongoing battle at the Tabqa Dam in the western Raqqa countryside in an attempt to take control of the structure and subsequently impose a siege on the organization’s fighters in the city of Raqqa, the capital of “Baghdadi’s caliphate” and its primary headquarters in Syria. So far it seems that the battle is going in the favor of the coalition and the Kurdish militias it supports, as it has recently been able to cut off ISIS' supply route between Raqqa and the city of Tabqa.

In the current battle two aspects have become prominent: The first is the large volume of American support for the Kurdish force, which reflects the features of the anti-ISIS policy of U.S. President Donald Trump in Syria; the second is the effective absence and broad marginalization of Arab fighters in the SDF, which reflects the tactical goals the militia is promoting in achieving its interests in expanding in the country’s north.

The United States is currently one of the most prominent actors in the battle for the Raqqa countryside, and Mahmoud al-Hadi, head of the political office of Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa (a military group of Arab fighters in the SDF) said that the mission of the U.S. forces was no longer limited to giving advice to the SDF — and behind it the Kurdish forces — but now American soldiers had entered directly into fighting on the ground against ISIS and within the ranks of the Kurdish militias. He also said that mainly American soldiers participated in the recent air drop operation.

Hadi spoke to Alsouria Net about the aim of the Americans in supporting the Kurdish forces and their heavy presence in the battles in the Raqqa countryside, saying that according to his information the Americans intended to establish a large military base in the Middle East on Raqqa province territory, whose importance lies in the fact that it is in a position between the Gulf states and Iran, in addition to bordering Iraq, which is still of strategic importance for America.

Hadi added that the Tabqa air base which ISIS forces lost on Sunday, March 26, now had American forces present to control it. He predicted that American forces will remain in Raqqa for many years in the base which the Americans had set their eyes on. However, he said that at the same time Washington would work on winning over some of the people of the region to achieve its own interests in the end.

In the same context, France has also extended its hand in northern Syria, as Hadi said there were French forces in the Jaaber area on the left bank of the Euphrates, which is about 53 kilometers from the city of Raqqa. He added that the mission of the French forces present there was similar to that of the American forces, saying that they had also engaged in fighting on the ground.

Regarding the coming battle for Raqqa, the head of the political office for Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa said that the Kurdish militias had deployed 10,000 to 15,000 fighters with heavy American support. If these forces participate it will greatly increase the dispute between the U.S. and Turkey, especially given that Ankara rejects the participation of Kurdish militias in the battle for Raqqa, accusing them of being the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party which is outlawed in Turkey.

In this context, Hadi predicted that the international coalition, particularly America, will not completely neglect Turkey’s interests. He believes that the cooperation between the U.S. and Kurdish militias is now based on interests under the pretext of fighting terrorism, “but after the end of ISIS there will be a resizing of the Kurdish influence in northern Syria so the coalition can satisfy Turkey,” as Hadi put it.

Hadi spoke about the SDF's intentional marginalization of Arab fighters in the ongoing battle in the Raqqa countryside, predicting that they will not have any active role in the major fighting, which the ISIS headquarters in Syria is awaiting and is expected to begin in April, according to what France (a coalition partner) and the Kurdish militias have announced.

In this context, Hadi said that the “only Arab faction in the SDF is Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa.” However, he said that this faction is excluded from the current fighting and does not play any active role in it. He said that the Arab fighters would be entirely outside the equation when the Raqqa battles erupt.

Systemic displacement

The Syrian opposition fears a broad project to create demographic change in north and east of Syria with the expansion of Kurdish militias there. According to Hadi, entire villages have been cleared of their residents, in what seems like a systematic project of displacement.

Hadi said that all sides fighting are responsible for the displacement. On one hand, ISIS is holed up in civilian areas, and on the other, the SDF militia and the international coalition are targeting areas in which there are also civilians. He said that what is happening is a deliberate plan to displace civilians and said that even if they return later, this will be on the terms set by the Kurdish militias — especially the forced conscription of Raqqa residents into the ranks of the SDF.

Hadi expressed his belief that if the Arab fighters were seriously involved in the ongoing battles, the losses would be fewer, noting that the participation of Raqqa residents in the battle — as they know the geography of the area — would enable the coalition to more precisely determine the targets of ISIS positions inside Raqqa and in its countryside, adding that there would be cooperation occurring between residents in Raqqa and Raqqa fighters themselves if they were participating in the battle.

This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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