Sunday, November 6, 2016

US and Kurds announce new offensive targeting ISIS's capitol in Syria, Raqqa.

US fighters in Syria. Reuters.

The United States and their Kurdish allies in Syria have announced a new offensive targeting ISIS's capitol, Raqqa. Reuters. The new offensive is timed to coordinate with the Iraqi offensive to take back ISIS's 2nd major city of Mosul. The Kurdish led alliance, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), announced the attack and the United States will contribute air support. The initial operations in this new offensive will be an effort to cut off Raqqa from the rest of the Islamic State. Tensions are high though because Turkey is demanding to be a part of the offensive.

My Comment:
Talk about premature. Unlike Mosul, Kurdish forces aren't anywhere close to Raqqa. There are a lot of villages, towns and even cities between Kurdish forces and Raqqa. Indeed, it seems that there is a lot of work to do before the Kurds can even threaten ISIS's capitol. 

And I think it is way premature to announce this operation is targeting Raqqa. Not only is that pretty unrealistic at this point it's tipping off ISIS to what their enemy is up to. There seems to be little reason to do so. There are other places that ISIS could have been attacked, such as the rather large salient between Aleppo and Manbij, or even in Eastern Syria. But now ISIS knows that the SDF will not be attacking in those areas. 

Still, if you read between the lines you can tell that this attack really isn't focusing on Raqqa. It's more about isolating the city and cutting off it's line of supplies. How exactly they are going to try and do that is a mystery to me, but my guess is that the plan will be essentially the same one that they have in Iraq for Mosul. Right now only a few forces are actually fighting in the city while the rest are trying to cut the city off so they can lay siege.

I am guessing, long term, that is what will happen in Raqqa as well. It's just a long, long way off. Looking at a map of the situation in Syria, there doesn't seem to be any easy way to even cut off the city. I can't imagine that the SDF will have a rapid advance unless ISIS totally collapses, so any discussion about the battle of Raqqa is months premature. This offensive is just the very early stage of that battle which will probably start sometime next year. 

All that being said, ISIS has to be under a lot of pressure right now. They are doing their best to defend Mosul, their last major holding in Iraq. If they lose that city, they lose their main outpost in Iraq and will be pushed out of the country. It could even potentially cause a collapse. 

With new attacks coming in the Raqqa area, ISIS may have to shift forces around to defend the city. ISIS only has so many troops and they have no real way to replace their losses. With much of their forces either fighting in Mosul or against the Turks near the border, they might not have the reserves to throw into battle against the Kurds. 

The wildcard is, of course, Turkey. Turkey has said that they want to join the battle from Raqqa. Turkey has been a key factor in ISIS's downturn and they have cut off the terror group's main line of supply by clearing out the border area between Syria and Turkey. They want in on this offensive.

Why? Because they hate the Kurds. They do not want them to expand outside of their traditional areas. Raqqa has never been a Kurdish city so to have them take back the city is a major threat to Turkey. Yes, the SDF has Arab members, but it's mostly a Kurdish force. Turkey views an expansionist Kurdish group as a existential threat.

This, more then any other factor, makes me think that this offensive is mostly smoke and mirrors. The Kurds will need to keep many of their troops at home due to the threat of Turkey taking territory from them. Turkey has said for a long time that they are going to take back Manbij from the Kurds, and when that happens I bet the Kurds will have to call off this offensive to defend themselves. ISIS will remain in Raqqa for the time being...  

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