Alwaght- Since 2013, Raqqa province has been occupied by ISIS terrorists and has turned into the locus of power for ISIS in Syria. Since the ISIS caliphate is located at Raqqa, this province is of great importance. Raqqa is also neighbor with the three provinces of Deir ez-Zor, Hasaka, and Aleppo, which makes the matter of its cleanup more important. On this basis it is clear that dominating and occupying Raqqa is predominant for countries and powers that have influence over the situation of Syria. In this regard, the US has put recapturing Raqqa in its short-term agenda. Washington has formed a coalition known as Syrian Democratic Forces to help them in recapturing the province of Raqqa. The majority of the forces in this coalition are from The Democratic Union Party (a left-wing Kurdish political party in Syria), and People’s Protection Units.
In fact, by utilizing Kurd forces in these battles, US is able to avoid using its own army. If Kurds succeed in recapturing the Raqqa province, they can provide enough bargaining power for themselves, to pursue their political demands and objectives in the peace talks and negotiations. Thus, Kurds capturing Raqqa, will be a factor that they could use to increase their Political-Security influence in Syria. If the Kurds occupy Raqqa, they will turn into one of the powerful players among different Syrian groups. By attacking Raqqa and occupying it, the Kurd forces want to introduce themselves as the only force that has been able to fight ISIS off of Syria and defeat it. They also want to show themselves as the only force determined to fight ISIS terrorists in Syria, in order to improve their international status.
It should be noted that the Kurds are the only group in Syria, that have connections and ties to both Russia and the US, and both of these countries are supporting Kurds. By interacting with world powers, the Kurds are trying to appear as a powerful player even outside of the internal environment of Syria. It would greatly help the Kurds in their journey towards having a Kurdish autonomous region, if they establish themselves as a group which its power goes beyond the borders of Syria. By dominating the strategic region of Manbij, Syrian Democratic Forces were able to block the gap between the Turkish borders and the city of Raqqa. Although, some experts on the issue believe that ISIS left Manbij as part of their agreement with leaders of the nomads in that region, and capturing Manbij does not show the power of Syrian Democratic Forces. Fabrice Balanche, expert on the issues of Syria, stated the following in The Washington Institute For Near East Policy: “before the coalition even thinks about launching a final push on the city, it must rally the Arab tribes in the area, some of whom have pledged allegiance to IS (ISIS terrorist group) “.
On the other hand, Turkey has started an operation dubbed Euphrates Shield. Turkish forces have entered Syria and occupied the city of Jarabulus. Ankara has stated that this operation aims to prevent the spread of areas that are dominated by multinational Kurd militias, who are planning to establish a Kurdish region along the northern border of Syria. Supposedly, another objective of this operation is to distance the ISIS terrorists from the southern borders of Turkey. Ankara has emphasized that the areas under their occupation are going to be limited.
Joe Biden, Vice President of US, has also ordered the US affiliated Kurd militias to retreat to the eastern side of the Euphrates in order to avoid any conflict between the two sides. If the Kurds act otherwise, it has been stated that the US will stop supporting them. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, declared the following in a news conference: “Raqqa is the most important center of Daesh (Arabic acronym for ISIS), Obama wants to do something together especially on the issue of Raqqa, I said there would be no problem from our perspective. What can be done will become clear after the discussions. We need to show we are present in the region, if we take a step back, terror groups like Daesh, PKK, PYD or YPG will settle there.”
If the negotiations between Turkey and the US come to good results, the Kurds will experience losses. It is not currently clear if the coalition between Washington and Ankara for Raqqa will be formed or not. It should be noted that, if Erdogan enters the battle of Raqqa with ground forces, he will face problems that he would not be able to solve. Also by doing this he might trigger a security crisis in Turkey.
Therefore, it is clear that at the moment, both the Kurds and the Turks, are trying to play a role in Raqqa with completely distinctive purposes. Both of them are also trying to gain the support of Washington by any means possible. Meanwhile, the US is also trapped in the dilemma of supporting its strategic ally, Turkey, or backing the Kurds under its protection.