Top US general visits Kurdish-led SDF troops amidst ongoing Raqqa operation

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General Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command. File photo

ARA News

General Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command, visited Kurdish headquarters at the Kobani and Raqqa frontlines on Friday to discuss the final phase of the Euphrates Wrath campaign to capture Raqqa in another sign of support for the Syrian Democratic Forces.

General Votel’s visit to the Kobani and Raqqa frontlines comes a few days after Republican Senator John McCain visited Kobani ahead of a review of U.S. strategy and plans against ISIS. The visit was arranged with the help of the US army. US army and US officials have also had meeting with Turkish officials the last few weeks.

According to the spokesman of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Talal Silo, General Votel discussed the recent developments of the SDF’s Raqqa campaign and ways to increase coordination and support.

“General Votel’s visit to meet with SDF commanders is a signal that the U.S. military is preparing for the next, and likely final, phase in the campaign to seize Raqqa,” Nicholas A. Heras, Bacevich Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), told ARA News.

“It is, in fact, a great honor for the SDF to host the leader of the entire U.S. Central Command. It demonstrates that the SDF is trusted with the General’s life and well-being,” he added.

“It also demonstrates that General Votel considers the SDF to be strong and close enough partners to be willing to personally visit SDF leaders to confer with them on the strategy to deal the death blow to ISIS in Raqqa,” Heras told ARA News.

The visit also comes a day after pro-Turkey rebel groups in Syria threatened to attack the SDF-held town of Manbij, especially after the Turkish army and Islamist rebels captured al-Bab city on Thursday.

US officials fear a Turkish attack on Manbij could significantly delay the ongoing SDF-led operation to isolate Raqqa. If the Turkey-backed rebels would attack Manbij, the SDF would have to send more fighters to protect Manbij from Turkey’s aggression.

Some analysts suggest ISIS withdrew from al-Bab on 23 February, hoping that Turkey would attack the SDF-held town of Manbij.

“General Votel, the top commander of CENTCOM, would not be visiting the SDF leadership if the U.S. military did not have the utmost confidence in it,” analyst Heras said.

“General Votel’s visit is one of the best shows of support the U.S. can give the SDF,” he concluded.

This is not the first time for the American General to visit Rojava. In May 2016, General Joseph Votel visited the SDF in Kobani before the launch of the Manbij operation. At that time, the General also met with Turkish officials.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News

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