They join force to secure Raqqa territory captured from ISIS
New Syrian troops receive weapons Thursday during a graduation ceremony at Ain Issa desert base in Raqqa province. Some 250 residents of the province are the latest to graduate from a U.S.-training course, after which they will help secure areas captured from Islamic State militants.
AIN ISSA, Syria — Some 250 residents of Syria’s Raqqa province on Thursday became the latest batch to graduate from a brief U.S. training course, part of an internal security force to hold and secure areas as they are captured from the Islamic State extremist group.
The graduation ceremony in the desert town of Ain Issa, north of Raqqa, was attended by a few American trainers who oversee the force and its preparation. Members will man checkpoints, identify Islamic State sleeper cells and detect explosives.
The U.S. has partnered with a Kurdish-dominated coalition fighting force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, but the problem of who would hold and administer predominantly Sunni Arab areas freed from the militants is an uneasy one.
U.S. officials say once Raqqa is liberated, the Syrian Democratic Forces will hand over local governance to the Raqqa Civilian Council, a group of primarily Arab residents who will govern and administer essential services.
The training program appears to be accelerating as the campaign to liberate the city of Raqqa enters its seventh week and the need for a security force to secure the city post-Islamic State becomes more pressing. Critics say the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and the affiliated Kurdish administration are not apt for holding the majority-Arab province.
The newly graduated force is composed mostly of Arab cadets.
For Wissam Eid, a 17-yearold resident of Raqqa, this is personal. His twin brother was shot in the head by Islamic State militants after they detained him for seven months in late 2015. At the age of 15, his brother Ayman was accused by militants of collaborating with the Kurdish militias that operate in northern Raqqa and Aleppo. A friend had ratted on him.
Eid said he, too, was detained for three months as they investigated his brother, held in solitary confinement for a month and hung from his arms for over 12 hours. After he was released, he went looking for the person who ratted on his brother.
It was his mother that urged him to join the new force.
“If you arrest a Daesh, just drink his blood, she told me,” Eid said, using a variation on an Arabic saying and using an Arabic acronym to refer to the Islamic State.