Kurdish-led forces clear 3,200km², kill 620 ISIS militants in battle for Raqqa

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SDF spokesman Talal Silo (C), accompanied by military leaders, speak to a press conference in Raqqa countryside. Photo: ARA News

ARA News

Raqqa – The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) held a press conference on Monday in which they released casualty figures and progress reports. During the conference, the assembled officers announced that since the start of Operation Euphrates Wrath their soldiers had liberated 3,200 km², including 236 villages.

“We have lost 42 of our fighters in this struggle so far. Three of them were Western fighters [an American, a Canadian and a Briton] who had volunteered in the SDF,” the leaders acknowledged. “Three fighters from the Syriac Military Council have also lost their lives.”

“We, in the Euphrates Wrath operations room, thank our people in the liberated areas of Raqqa for their cooperation,” the SDF continued. “We hereby promise them that we’ll continue to protect them, and we’ll make any sacrifices needed to maintain the civil peace.”

The officers called on “the people of Raqqa to participate in the formation of local councils to run their areas, and to join the SDF in order to liberate the entirety of Raqqa Governorate.”

Tribal Leaders Agree to Back the SDF

The Syrian Democratic Forces also revealed that in the coming weeks 28 Arab tribal leaders “will declare their support for the SDF,” and their opposition to the Islamic State (ISIS).

“The second phase of the Euphrates Wrath Operation, which was launched on December 10, is continuing in Raqqa,” the officers said. “The campaign came in response to calls by the people of Raqqa to liberate them from ISIS terrorism.”

“During the second phase, our forces were able to liberate 2480 square kilometers, clearing 196 villages and dozens of farms and strategic hills,” the SDF declared. “Thus, since the beginning of the battle for Raqqa, 3200 square kilometers have been cleared, including 236 villages.”

The SDF confirmed the that they had eliminated 620 ISIS militants during the course of the campaign, captured 18 others and destroyed “over 40 car bombs.” In addition, SDF troops seized “a great deal of ammunition and weapons,” as well as “a number of ISIS vehicles.”

According to the Kurdish-led SDF, thousands of civilians have been freed in Raqqa’s western countryside. The civilians will be returned to their homes after their villages are liberated and demined.

Kurdish officers also corroborated reports that they had been scaling up, in anticipation of the third phase of Euphrates Wrath. “More than 2500 new fighters have joined the Syrian Democratic Forces after being trained and equipped […] in cooperation with the US-led coalition.”

Western Nations Contribute to the Campaign

The Syrian Democratic Forces also thanked the US-led coalition and the Western experts and advisors “for their great contributions, making all these accomplishments possible.”

General James Mattis, the new US Defense Secretary, in his confirmation hearing last week, said that the incoming administration will attempt to accelerate the Raqqa campaign. “I believe that strategy needs to be reviewed and perhaps energized on a more aggressive timeline.”

Concurrently, Assistant Secretary of Defense Elissa Slotkin said that the penultimate goal of the is to isolate Raqqa. “Our commanders have a plan. You know that we’re in the beginning – or we’re in the middle actually of isolating Raqqa, and that’s going well.”

The Assistant Secretary said there are now 50,000 SDF soldiers fighting ISIS in northern Syria. “That’s a big number and that is not the number it was a year ago,” she said.

Stolkin added that the SDF is rapidly scaling up, explaining that as the polyethnic alliance “liberates new areas from ISIS, people did not like living under ISIS and they volunteer.”

“We have seen that borne out, and ever since the Manbij operations, frankly, we’ve seen a significantly larger number of Arabs come into the fight [enlisting in the SDF],” Stolkin continued.

The US official reasoned that increased diversity in the Syrian Democratic Forces’ ranks would help in the looming battle for Raqqa city. “I think about 50% at this point is sort of Arab-Turkmen [and] the whole host of other folks besides the Kurds, and I think that’s a pretty healthy number given the importance of the coming fight in Raqqa, which is an Arab town.”

Moreover, Stolkin said the new fighters were reliable and individually vetted by SDF to assess their background. “You take in these new folks, you vet them to make sure that they’re up to our new standards in terms of age and health and […] not being a terrorist list -all those things- and then you see what they can do.”

Striking an upbeat note, the Assistant Secretary said the new recruits were being assigned to a wide-variety of tasks, which is why the US “needed to engage with these guys and make sure that we were helping them as best we could with the plan for Raqqa.”

Reporting by: Enwer Omar and Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News 

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