The head of the Syrian rebel group the Raqqa Revolutionaries Front has announced in a video uploaded to YouTube that his group will “soon” announce a military offensive on Raqqa, the “capital” of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS) terrorist group.
The video, uploaded by the group Raqqa is Being Slaughter Silently, is a message from Abu Issa, the leader of the militia. In it, he declares that the entire province of Raqqa, not just the city, will be treated as a “military zone” by the militia and, presumably, its allies on the ground against ISIS. He also announces that the group is planning a full scale attack on the city.
“We will soon announce zero hour for the beginning of the battle of liberation from oppression and persecution,” he says, warning that the military zone designation requires civilians to “not go near areas where there are Daesh [ISIS] elements.”
“We know that you have waited a long time,” he tells viewers, “as have all Syrians and the rest of the world. It will be a historic battle, first for Raqqa and then for all of Syria.”
Middle East Eye notes that the Raqqa Revolutionaries Front is considered one of the best positioned militias to carry out such a military undertaking, as they are believed to be less than 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the city.
Issa did not mention whether the group would receive aid from American airstrikes or whether other militias, such as the Free Syrian Army or the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) will participate in the endeavor. The Raqqa Revolutionaries Front is considered a member of an alliance between these groups to fight ISIS and has previously claimed to receive weapons from the United States, Reuters notes.
American officials have previously vowed they would support an organized effort to retake Raqqa, and that this will be the “next focus” of the war on this Islamic State. The United States has air-dropped weapons to Arab militias, though the intended recipients, the Free Syrian Army, claim the Kurdish YPG took the weapons before they could reach them. The United States works with Kurdish forces, as well, but has remained more distant from them due to opposition from Turkey, which considers the YPG/YPJ a terrorist group.
American officials announced Friday that U.S. Special Forces will also be present in the war against ISIS in Syria, though they denied deploying troops was a shift in strategy to President Obama’s refusal to put boots on the ground in the past.
The Pentagon confirmed to Breitbart News that, to their knowledge, the Kurds did not take the weapons, and they reached their intended recipients.
Whether Kurdish forces would support an assault on Raqqa remains to be seen. Raqqa is traditionally Arab territory, far from the limits of Rojava or Syrian Kurdistan. “Whether or not Kurdish fighters are willing to move that far south, frankly, is unknown at this point. We have not seen Kurds operate in Arab territory very much,” U.S. military spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters last week, emphasizing that “we do know that Syrian Arabs are ready. They’re willing.”
The Syrian Kurdish YPG has made statements suggesting they are open to being involved in the liberation of Raqqa, however. “It will happen soon, but how or when, that’s military information,” YPG commander Heval Amude told Middle East Eye.
BasNews, an outlet based in Kurdish-held Erbil, Iraq, also reports that Kurdish forces will focus on Raqqa, though the comparably large Mosul is also controlled by the Islamic State and closer to Kurdish territory. BasNews indicates the shift in strategy from planning to liberate Mosul to working on Raqqa was largely prompted by the presence of Russia in the fight against ISIS. Russia, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has made clear its primary goal is to restore stability to the Assad regime and has made minimal inroads in Iraq.
BasNews claims Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga will work with the Syrian Kurdish YPG on fighting in Raqqa, though the groups have traditionally not worked too closely together due to disagreements over the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist terrorist group that has worked with the YPG but has been rejected by the Peshmerga.