Plans to seize the ISIS-controlled Syrian city of Raqqa were announced last week, according to CNN. The operation is called “Euphrates Rage.”
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which includes Kurdish, Syrian and Turkish fighters, has been backed by the U.S. to advance its fighters — more than 30,000 to help seize Raqqa, U.S. News and World reported.
“(The operation) will start by taking Raqqa countryside and then the goal is the city,” SDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Talal Ali Selo said, according to CNN. Selo said the goal is to isolate and then liberate Raqqa, dubbed the capital or caliphate of the Islamic State by ISIS.
“Raqqa is recognized as the financial, leadership and external ops center of the Islamic State, so that’s what makes it important,” the commander of the U.S. Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel told CNN. If this offensive is successful, it could disrupt the group from carrying out terror attacks in the U.S. and elsewhere, according to CNN.
The U.S. has been a significant benefactor behind this operation. Los Angeles Times reported that U.S. efforts have led to the formation of the SDF and has provided weapons and air and logistical support to the Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
While America sees the YPG as an ally in Syria, Turkey is opposed to the group’s involvement because of its close association with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), a Turkish separatist group, the Economist reported. For this reason, Turkey has offered to work with the U.S. to take back Raqqa only if the SDF, which works with the Kurdish militia, are not involved, according to Los Angeles Times.
“So we’re negotiating, we’re planning, we’re having talks with Turkey and we’re going to take this in steps,” Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Towsen said, according to Los Angeles Times.
In the midst of fighting and strategizing, Islamic State fighters have made it difficult for civilians to leave battle ground and war-afflicted areas.
“They wouldn’t let us leave,” an anonymous civilian told BBC. “We had to escape by running out into the fields, with our children and old people. What else could we do? We left everything behind.”
Sparse access to the media and internet have also facilitated ISIS’s ability to deceive civilians.
“One thing ISIS has been telling the civilians in Raqqa is that when the Kurdish fighters come into their city they will be slaughtered in the street,” said Will Ripley, an international correspondent with CNN. However, the Kurdish fighters are working together with Arab fighters to liberate the region from ISIS control, according to CNN.