Within a matter of days to weeks, the US Army will begin a full fledged ground assault inside the country of Syria. While this is not the first time the US military has directly engaged in the Syrian Civil War, this does mark the first time the US military has publicly stated its intentions to move “boots on the ground” (soldiers) into Syria – making it an official and public military operation; an act of War.
You might not have heard about Raqqa before, but “The Battle for Raqqa” will soon be underway and I suspect you will be hearing much more about this over the next few weeks. So, if you have not read about this topic before, here is some information to get you caught up to speed.
Current Military Operations in and around Syria
The decision to deploy ground troops in Syria was made by US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter 10/23/16, after he made a surprise visit to sit to Iraq. Mr. Carter flew to Iraq to sit down with his generals and coalition forces fighting for Mosul, an offensive military campaign to retake the city from Islamic State control which began October 15, 2016 and includes 7,500 US ground troops.
Initial reports indicated Mr. Carter had flown to Iraq discuss the future of US forces inside the country, more specifically to discuss the logistical battle plan for Mosul considering the lives of so many US soldiers was at stake. The decision to station troops in Mosul is an interesting one, President Obama has previously remained extremely apprehensive about stationing troops in Iraq ever since he ended the Iraq War in 2011.
However, 2016 happens to be a year which has seen the Islamic States suffer critical blows to their power, resources, infrastructure and numbers. Consequentially, this has opened the door for the Iraqi Army and US led Coalition forces to try and end the Islamic State once and for all.
At the present moment in time the Islamic State has two remaining strongholds left in the region, one in Mosul, Iraq and the other in Raqqa, Syria. Each city essentially srves as the “capitol” for the Islamic State in each country.
As previously reported, as of October 17, 2016 the Battle for Mosul is officially underway and while it has seen tremendous loss of life in a short period of time, by all accounts the US led coalition is slowly advancing and making solid gains.
While the Battle of Mosul and the Battle of Raqqa will take place in two different countries, at two different time, with different ground forces, the decision to go to War in either location was made for the same reason – to end the Islamic State for good.
While the Battle for Mosul has been underway for a little while now, The Battle for Raqqa has only just begun. Most likely, as a western media consumer, you just have not heard about it yet because US troops are not on the ground yet.
However, as reported by Middle East Eye 11/10/16, Kurdish ground troops – backed by the US – have already begun their assault on the city and are making gains. As for when US troops will arrive, according to reports by Russia Today on October 23, Ash Carter said the US offensive to retake Raqqa would “begin in a matter of weeks.”
Nearly 3 weeks later now, on 11/14/16, US ground troops have yet to arrive, but could be arriving any day now. Meanwhile, the Battle for Raqqa continues to heat up.
On November 5, 2016 the Battle for Raqqa officially began. However, as Kurdish forces wait for full fledged US engagement, the fight to retake the city remains largely unorganized. For example, “Syrian Arab fighter have already pulled out of the Kurd-led offensive” after “disagreements forced withdrawal from operation, leaving only Kurds involved.” Now, when US soldiers finally do arrive on scene they will have less help than originally planned for. What was this “disagreement” you ask?
According to reports, the Arab fighters – known as the “Raqqa Revolutionary Brigade” – pulled out of the fight after being “sidelined” by Kurdish forces – who are fighting on the front-lines.
According to Middle East Eye, “The brigade accused the US of trying to “sideline” its men in favour of the Kurdish forces, placing pressure on the YPG’s backers in Washington who had pledged to let Arab forces take the lead in the operations.” It is likely Kurdish forces took the initiative to secure the front line because they have been the primary recipient of US aid and weapons shipments since 2011 and likely far better equipped for the fight than local rebel factions.
You might not have heard about this battle yet, but it has only been underway for just over a weeks time and US ground forces are scheduled to arrive in a matter of days to weeks. I do not think it is speculation to say that even though you might not have ever heard of Raqqa before, you will be seeing much more about it in the international headlines for week/months to come.
While it is a necessary step to try and defeat ISIS in Syria, the fear is that US presence in Syria will only continue to increase if the initiative in Raqqa is successful. The Syrian Civil War has acted as a “Proxy War” between the United States and Russia and as Russian forces continue to make advancements in the country, against the very rebels the US is funding, if the US also experiences great victories in Syria, this only makes it more likely of an eventual US/Russian military encounter.
While Ash Carter, President Obama or President Elect Donald Trump have made no such indications of a long term ground effort in Syria, the situation is worth monitoring.
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