The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are preparing a major assault on the Islamic State (ISIS) capital of Raqqa in Syria in a few days, following a fresh shipment of arms from the U.S.
The SDF are composed of Arab and Kurdish militias and receive strong support from the U.S. to accelerate operations against Raqqa, which have been in the works since November.
Kurdish YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud told Reuters the operation is likely to start in the next few days. The Pentagon has begun providing small arms to the Kurds, a move authorized by President Trump several weeks ago, and although Turkey has not directly commented on the shipment, the country is unlikely to look favorably on it, as it sees the YPG as an extension of a terrorist group.
Raqqa is 56 miles from the Turkish border.
Pentagon officials told The Washington Examiner that they also expect the assault on Raqqa to begin soon. These same officials believe there are around 3,000-4,000 ISIS fighters in Raqqa.
“The battle will not be easy,” Mahmoud said. “Of course [ISIS] has tunnels, mines, car bombs, suicide bombers.”
SDF has asked civilians to evacuate Raqqa if possible, as ISIS has a history of using civilians as human shields. Around 200,000 civilians live in Raqqa.
Now that Iraqi forces are slowly forcing ISIS to retreat from Mosul and SDF is ready to make a move on Raqqa, ISIS will end up retreating to Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria. With Raqqa out of the picture, Deir al-Zor will be ISIS’ last major stronghold in both Iraq and Syria.