As the spring equinox starts with March 21, which is celebrated as the ancient new year under the name of Nevruz or Newroz in many eastern cultures, preparations are about to be completed for a major offensive on the Syrian city of Raqqa, which has been under occupation by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) since January 2014. According to diplomatic sources, if the operation does not start by early May, it might get more difficult because of the summer heat, especially for the ground troops.
But besides the calendar pressure, it also not clear who will carry out the Raqqa operation and how. Now there are the U.S. Central Command-backed (CENTCOM) Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) positioned to the north of Raqqa. Raqqa and its south are occupied by ISIL. The Russians made a surprise move to head towards Raqqa in support of Syrian regime forces and take over positions in and around the town of Manbij, west of Raqqa, from the control of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) on March 3. That stopped the march of Turkey-backed Free Syria Army (FSA) rebels on Manbij amid Turkish objections due to the YPG presence there.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan suggests that the United States should abandon the YPG as a partner, so that the Turkish army and the Arab rebels will join forces with the U.S. and retake Raqqa from ISIL.
That scenario has lost ground after a meeting called by Turkey in Antalya on March 7-8 with the participation of top generals from Turkey, the U.S. and Russia. The Russian military is providing assistance to the Turkish military, according to a de-conflict protocol, in order to avoid producing any unintended clashes between them and the Syrian regime forces, provided that the Turks move only on ISIL, not the YPG. The YPG is the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is the Syria extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting against Turkey for more than three decades.
After the Antalya meeting, the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, which owes its endurance to Russia, filed an official complaint to the United Nations against Turkey, asking it to leave its territory. Yesterday, on March 20, Reuters reported that Russian might give military training to YPG militia in and around Afrin, west of Syria very close to the Turkish border.
CENTCOM has deployed heavy weaponry to the region, which is an indication that it will not require a Turkish deployment for the Raqqa operation, while the U.S. State Department has also said it wants to carry on with the YPG, despite objections from NATO ally Turkey. Meanwhile, we are all still waiting for a call from U.S.
President Donald Trump about the operation. The Americans think the Turkish proposal would require brand new planning, which would mean a greater budget, time and energy and dependence on two foreign armies (Turkey and U.S.), rather than local forces, which could lead to “a new wave of extremism.”
However, the Turkish government is still waiting for the official announcement of the U.S.........