Raqqa has no real significance

Iraq Medivac Blackhawk, TelemarkIn the start-up phase of the operations in Iraq, Anbar, Telemark Battalion has a Medevac exercise together with an American Blackhawk helicopter. The mission of the Norwegian force is to train and advise a brigade in the Iraqi army. Photo: Forsvaret.no / CB Håvik

Capture of Raqqa has minimal strategic significance

The US backed conquest of Raqqa in Syria is of little strategic significance, the race to capture the Deir al-Zor Province, on the other hand will however be important, experts states.

 

– Raqqa had no strategic significance, neither regionally nor in Syria; Deir al-Zor on the other hand, has, says expert on Syria at Stanford University, Fabrice Balanche.

He refers to the oil deposits in Deir al-Zor province, where US-supported SDF rebels and Russian-backed Syrian government forces have launched a race to gain control.

The province borders to neighbouring Iraq, and Balanche expects the Syrian Government forces to move east towards the Iraq border soon to block the SDF from moving further to the south.

The head of the Damascus Center for Strategic Studies, Bassam Abu Abdullah, who is close to the regime, accords.

-The Syrian Government’s priority is now quite obvious to occupy Abu Kamal, the Syrian-Iraqi border and, finally, Deir al-Zor, he says.

Strong dislike

The SDF is dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia and both the regime in Damascus and Turkey strongly disagrees that the Kurds with US aid now have occupied additional areas in the north of Syria.

– They now seem to have good cards on hand to use in negotiating some kind of ceasefire with the regime, says Aaron Stein from the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.

City in ruins

It is still unclear whether the Kurds wants to attempt to incorporate Raqqa into their autonomous region, or use the Sunni Arab city as a negotiation card. The city is mostly in ruin after months of bombing, which might make it tempting for the Kurds to hand it over to the regime, Balanche believes.

– The reconstruction of Raqqa will not be easy and without reconstruction, the city’s rulers will face protests shortly, he says

– That will play right into the hands of Damascus, he believes.

The Syrian government will never accept parallel Governmental institutions such as the SDF, says Abu Abdullah.

– Seperate political structures will be deemed as unacceptable, and if necessary, they will be defeated by military means, he states.

American presence

Stein believes the US interest in Syria will diminish now that ISIL is largely defeated. Washington shows little effort to support the rebels fighting the Assad regime, and seems keener to prevent Iran from increasing their influence in the region.

– I believe that the United States will keep a few troops in northeastern Syria as a buffer against Iran and to still be able to pursue ISIL, says Stein.

A total American withdrawal will make the Kurds in Northern Syria extremely vulnerable, both with rgards to Damascus and Turkey, according to him.

– Washington must balance its allies against each other, says Aron Lund at the American Think Tank, Century Foundation.

– It may cause the United States to establish a more permanent presence to protect the SDF in eastern Syria, he says.

Facts about Raqqa

  • The capital of the Raqqa province in Northern Syria located near the river Euphrates, 90 kilometers from Turkey and about 200 kilometers from Iraq.
  • In March 2013, occupied by jihadists from Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front), al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.
  • In January 2014 it was conquered by the extremist Islamists in The Islamic State (ISIL). ISIL pushed the Nusra front and rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) out of the city.
  • Capital of ISIL since the group in June 2014 declared to have established a caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq.
  • ISIL introduced a strict Islamic regime and enforced an extreme and violent interpretation of Sharia laws.
  • Syria’s Democratic Forces (SDF), a US backed rebel alliance dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia, last November launched an offensive to retake control of surrounding villages.
  • June 6, 2017, the SDF announced that the battle for the city itself was launched. A week later, the United States confirmed that US Special Forces were inside the city.
  • October 15, the SDF declared that the fight for Raqqa was in its final stages.
  • October 17, SDF declared victory over ISIL in Raqqa.

 

©  NTB Scanpix / Norway Today

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