Alwaght– The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Saturday April 15 released a statement, announcing that they have started the fourth stage of the final push to retake Syria’s Raqqa province from ISIS terrorist group.
First stage, dubbed Operation Wrath of Euphrates, had started on November 6, last year, leading the SDF fighters to reclaim a large part of the territories of the province held by the terrorists. The fourth stage is expected to see the fighters’ progress from east to west towards Tabaqah, a town they are only one kilometer apart from. They are also expected to press further into Jalab Valley in northern Raqqa to clear the drive out terrorists from the area.
According to analysts, ongoing advances of the SDF and further successes of the US and the allied local forces in fully taking Raqqa back from ISIS terrorists will bring about strategic influences on the course of future Syrian, and even the regional, developments.
1. ISIS decline in Syria
Successful operation of the SDF against ISIS will effectively lead to destruction of the terrorist group’s operational power which allows it to play as a leading actor in Syria’s battlefield developments. Defeat of ISIS will mean it will lose territory in Raqqa, the capital of the self-proclaimed caliphate. This, in turn, will dry out the financial sources of the terrorist group which empower it to recruit fighters. Most importantly, losing edge to SDF will strip ISIS of its claims about establishing a government in Syria and Iraq, as this idea has proven crucial in keeping its fighters’ morale up.
Splitting from Al-Qaeda terrorist group in 2014, ISIS set up its organization in Syria and then moved to Iraq and managed to capture vast parts of Iraq, among them Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province. Its presence in Syria and Iraq significantly impaired the two countries’ central governments, even opening the way for their partition. But now with Raqqa liberation, the terrorist group will be largely distanced from the battleground developments.
2. US will expand presence and influence in Syria
Syria is one of the key competition grounds of the US-led Western bloc with other sides that oppose the American hegemony in the world, and particularly in West Asia. Russia and Iran have proven to be the leading rivals of the US in Syria, having the back of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against militant groups which enjoy support from the West as well as regional sides.
At the time being, the US sees itself lacking the military bases and forces on the Syrian soil which could provide a scope for influencing the developments of the war-ravaged country through holding bargaining chips on the negotiating table with Russia. The new American President Donald Trump looks quite dissatisfied with Washington’s weak position in Syria in comparison to Moscow. So he tries to have the biggest possible role in Raqqa recapture. In fact, alliance with the SDF will help the US leader bolster presence in the ongoing fight in Syria.
The reports suggest that the US now is working to establish its own airfield in north Syrian city of Kobani. Moreover, Washington has increased its military advisors in north, meant to train the militants and secure leadership of the Raqqa recapture operation. Further reports maintain that Tabaqah airbase, recently recaptured by SDF from ISIS fighters, is one of the logistical support options for final Raqqa offensive. The airbase is located 40 kilometers away from Raqqa.
3. Deepening the US-Turkey gaps
Since the eruption of Syria’s crisis in 2011, the Turkish leaders have been watching the process of Syrian Kurds’ power gain and geopolitical position enhancement with extraordinary sensitivity. They are worried that the Kurds could establish their own autonomous rule in northern Syria and so transform to a stable and officially-recognized power. Once this happens, Ankara is afraid, they will provide a big base for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Ankara’s archenemy.
Motivated by these fears, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish leaders in past months frequently warned the US over tightening the bonds with the Syrian Kurds. However, Trump’s administration pressed forward with the Raqqa operation in alliance with Kurdistan Democratic Party as well as other anti-ISIS Kurdish, Turkmen, and Arab militant groups, showing no signs that, at least at the present time, it cares about Ankara’s warning and address its demands. Further support for the Kurds and instrumentally using them to pursue the American military agenda in Syria are expected to widen the Washington-Ankara rifts.
4. Complicated competition between multiple rivals
Another significant consequence of Raqqa recapture is impacts it will leave on the balance of power between the multiple opposite sides. That what force will control Raqqa after liberation will trigger deep changes in the present military coalitions. At the current time, the Syrian government’s forces and the Kurds are in a tacit alliance in the face of the Turkish-backed Free Syria Army (FSA), the military wing of the opposition. Should the Kurds decide to govern the post-ISIS Raqqa, they will very likely have to confront the Syrian government’s forces or even a new Turkish military campaign in Syria.