Arm­ing up

They join force to se­cure Raqqa ter­ri­tory cap­tured from ISIS

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - SARAH EL DEEB THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

AP/HUS­SEIN MALLA

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