Raqa as­sault might take longer than Pen­tagon chief pre­dicts

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Af­ter Iraqi se­cu­rity forces even­tu­ally re­cap­ture Mo­sul, the Is­lamic State group will be left with only Raqa in neigh­bor­ing Syria as a bas­tion, and the ji­hadists’ self-pro­claimed “caliphate” will be largely gone. The US-led coali­tion has been strik­ing IS across both coun­tries for more than two years, and has long held Raqa in its sights-an IS de­feat there would be a defin­ing end­point of the cam­paign. But Pen­tagon chief Ash­ton Carter sur­prised com­man­ders last week when he de­clared the ac­tual as­sault on Raqa could start “in the next few weeks,” af­ter Bri­tish De­fense Min­is­ter Michael Fal­lon made a sim­i­lar pre­dic­tion.

Pri­vately, many high-rank­ing Pen­tagon of­fi­cials were caught off-guard, and ex­pressed skep­ti­cism the Raqa push could start so soon, given the Gor­dian knot of un­pre­dictabil­ity in the chaos of Syria. Carter’s time­line is “a lit­tle more ahead of what I have been hear­ing so far,” one US de­fense of­fi­cial told AFP on con­di­tion of anonymity, choos­ing his words care­fully. An­other US de­fense of­fi­cial said the mil­i­tary’s ex­pec­ta­tions for Raqa-a city with a pre-war pop­u­la­tion of about 220,000 — didn’t match Carter’s time­line. And a third mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said that while the as­sault could the­o­ret­i­cally start in weeks, it may take “sin­gle-digit months,” push­ing the pos­si­ble time­line out to “nine months or less.” That of­fi­cial added the as­sault may yet start be­fore 2017, “but it could drag on fur­ther for other rea­sons we can’t con­trol.” “It’s up to” the lo­cal forces, he added. “We are ready if they are ready.”

Even be­fore the start of a ground of­fen­sive, likely to be fought along sim­i­lar lines to the one hap­pen­ing in Mo­sul, coali­tion planes must com­plete the “iso­la­tion,” “shap­ing” and “en­vel­op­ment” of Raqa. This en­tails non-stop strikes on IS fight­ing po­si­tions and the slic­ing of sup­ply lines into and out of the north­ern Syr­ian city. Coali­tion spokesman Colonel John Dor­rian said those op­er­a­tions had al­ready par­tially suc­ceeded, and had helped cut routes from Raqa to and from Europe. “What we’re talk­ing about is a higher level of iso­la­tion that greatly re­duces the free­dom of move­ment of Daesh to go into and come out of that city,” he said.

Mil­i­tary of­fi­cials are grap­pling with a slew of un­knowns that have not been at play in the Mo­sul fight. Whereas Iraqi se­cu­rity forces are a mostly co­he­sive fight­ing force un­der cen­tral­ized con­trol, the US-led coali­tion is re­ly­ing on a more neb­u­lous fight­ing crew in Syria. The Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF) num­ber around 30,000 fight­ers, two thirds of whom are Kurds fight­ing un­der the ban­ner of the Kur­dish Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG,) with Syr­ian Arabs broadly mak­ing up the rest. — AFP

COLONGE: Peo­ple at­tend a pro-Kur­dish demon­stra­tion in Cologne, western Ger­many, as part of an in­ter­na­tional day in sup­port to Kurds. — AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.