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The US Strategy of Raqqah (Opinion)

Washington’s Raqqah plan was brought into question as a formula to prevent Turkey’s deepening military expansion in northern Syria and thereby to secure PKK/PYD forces in the region.

Fikret Akfırat

- The operation Euphrates Shield has been a game changing move by the Turkish Army for the resolution of the Syria crisis in favor of the regional axis. The base priority of the Washington administration concerning the operation is 'to protect the areas seized by the PKK/PYD factions, under the pretence of fighting against the ISIS.'

- The US core strategy is to prevent Turkey to develop a sort of regional resolution for the crisis in Syria or at least limit its capability as well as possible. Washington propagates the discourse that 'Turkey is still with us' to create new reservations amongst the countries in the region.

Turkish Army's cross-border operation in northern Syria, the Euphrates Shield is now left 15 days behind. After the ISIS was initially expelled from Jarablus and Cobanbey in the context of the operation, the PKK/PYD presence in Menbij and a new preventive operation by Turkish Army towards Aleppo's strategic district Al-Bab is began to be debated in the Turkish media circles. Finally, after the Erdogan-Obama meeting in the G20 summit in China, a joint Raqqah operation by the US and Turkey was also brought into question as President Erdogan stated that Turkey leans toward the US proposal of joint Raqqah operation.

So, what is behind this proposal?


Here are the two breaking points conerning the failure of the US’s 6-years operation to split Syria and encircle Damascus: The most initial step came from Russia with the air strikes aiming at the terrorist groups in Syria. Then Turkey took the initiative to solve the problem with the neighboring countries - particularly with Russia. After a series of meetings with Russian and Iranian officials, Turkey set a direct contact with the Syrian government which is also confirmed by Damascus. But the most significant step amongst the others was the operation Euphrates Shield. Turkish Armed Forces made a game-changing move for the resolution of Syria crisis in favor of the regional axis.


The 'Euphrates Shield' was an historical event that rang the alarm bells for the US. It was highly remarkable that Washington did not openly object the operation in the first phase. While the statements of the US officials were at the direction of showing a support to the operation; the objections were hidden between the lines. The PKK/PYD presence in the region is still standing as the main element of the contradiction between the US and Turkish policies. But the priority of the Washington regarding the operation can be summarized as 'to secure the zones which had been seized by the PKK' under using the very well-known anti-ISIS discourse as a screen. This can also be considered as a tactic of Washington in the context of its strategy regarding the ISIS. However, the main tactic of the US is to prevent or restrict Turkey to turn towards developing solutions in Syria in cooperation with the countries in the region. Washington's attitude on giving the subliminal message that 'Turkey is still with us' aims at creating mistrust among the countries in the region. Therefore, the US proposal for a joint operation in Raqqah is being proposed as a new item for the agenda in order to avoid the Euphrates Shield to get spreaded deeper in Syria and thus this is also a formula to secure the PKK/PYD forces.


On the other hand, there is no possibility for Turkey to launch an operation in Raqqah using its land forces. That’s why the comments in the pro-goverment media stating that “Turkish Military Forces’ existence in the line between Mosul and Aleppo will deactivate the PKK” are not reflecting the truth. Syrian government is controlling the south side of the line extending to Raqqah and we see the US backed PKK/PYD elements in the northern part of the related line. For Turkey, to conduct an operation in Raqqah with the aim of purging the ISIS from the city does not sound logical as it would also make Turkey an indirect associate of the PKK/PYD.


At this stage, the most considerable point for the US to secure its strategy is to create a new formula to secure the field seized by the PKK/PYD forces. Because there is still a strong risk for the regional balance to be changed very rapidly. We should not forget that the US imposes Turkey to accept the settlement of the PYD forces in the east of the Euphrates while at the same time suggesting to conduct a joint operation in Raqqa.


The US Minister of Defense Ashton Carter who has been negotiating with the ministers of the countries including Turkey, in London, is actually taking the pulse of the countries for a NATO contribution to the so-called anti-ISIS coalition. This efforts no doubt aim at cutting the links of Turkey with the axis of the region through the NATO. Carter stated that they are at a final stage and “ISIS will permanently be defeated soon.” Actually, Washington has been working on a more extensive and coordinated operation plan towards Mosul and Raqqah since a very long time.

The question: 'What will happen after ISIS purged from Mosul and Raqqah' is now reached an important level. The US Mosul strategy is quite clear. They are planning to split and share Mosul between Barzani administration and an autonomous Sunni region which will also be formed by the US. For Raqqa, they say that the city will be left to the 'moderate Sunni opposition' after being cleaned from the ISIS. That's to say, the US proposes a similar formula so in Iraq. It is known that the US is planning an ethnic and secterian federation model for Syria and aims to create a Sunni zone from Mosul to Aleppo.


The FSA does not have the power to control the region. Based on the military sources, at least 4 brigades of soldiers needed in order Turkey to seize the control of the region extending from Mare to Jarablus and Al-Bab. Therefore, the best option for Turkey is to transfer the control of this region to the Syria government after purging the ISIS and PYD units from their current positions. Likewise, on the next level, it can also be possible for Turkey to assist Syria to take the control of Raqqa from the US, under the presence of fighting against the ISIS, in support of Russia and Iran. But of course, to make it real, it stands as a main priority that Turkey should cut its support to the groups fighting against Syrian government in Aleppo and Idlib


Ret. Lieutenant General İsmail Hakkı Pekin assessed the developments on the Raqqa operation presented by the US. Pekin said, “The US is playing a new delaying tactic against Turkey by coming up with the Raqqa operation. The most significant point for Turkey amongst all is to prevent the PKK corridor. However, the US is objecting Turkey's desire to control Al-Bab via Ankara backed groups, in order to promote the PKK corridor. That's why Raqqa issue was brought to the table. There are news concerning the YPG terrorists are headed to Al-Bab from Afrin. The point that Ankara should concentrate on is to prevent the PKK corridor. It is not militarily right to discuss another operation while Al-Bab is yet not cleaned up from the ISIS and the YPG is still settled in Manbij.”

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