Northern Raqqa offensive (November 2016)
The northern Raqqa offensive, codenamed operation Wrath of Euphrates, is an ongoing military operation launched by the Syrian Democratic Forces against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the Raqqa Governorate, with the goal of capturing the de facto ISIL capital city of Raqqa. The offensive is concurrent with the anti-ISIL offensive and battle for al-Bab near Aleppo, and battle for Mosul in Iraq.
In late October 2016, the United States Secretary of Defense Ash Carter called for an offensive on Raqqa to be concurrent with the Battle of Mosul in Iraq. He stated that the US is cooperating with its allies in order to launch an "isolation operation" around Raqqa. On 26 October, the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called the President of the United States Barack Obama and stated that he did not want the People's Protection Units (YPG) to participate in the planned operation, and instead planned to involve the Turkish Armed Forces. The United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon rejected the idea of non-Arab forces taking part in the offensive and demanded a purely Arab force.
On the same day, the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend stressed that the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces is the only armed group capable of capturing Raqqa in the near future. Fewer US-led coalition troops will be involved than in the Battle of Mosul. On 3 November, the commander of the Seljuk Brigade and the SDF spokesman Col. Talal Silo rejected the participation of Turkey in the operation.
The SDF officially announced the start of the operation on 6 November in the village of Ayn Issa. The intention was to proceed in two phases, first seizing areas around Raqqa and isolating the city, advancing from three fronts, then taking control of the city itself. The SDF general command called for the international coalition against ISIL to support the operation. In response, Ash Carter welcomed the announcement and emphasized the importance of capturing Raqqa and defeating ISIL, while cautioning that "there is hard work ahead".
First phase: Isolating Raqqa from its northern hinterland
On 6 November, the SDF captured six small villages, including the villages of Wahid, Umm Safa, Wasita, Haran, al-Adriyah and Jurah south and southeast of Ayn Issa. IS detonated four car bombs on the first day of the offensive.
On 8 November, the SDF reported that they had taken control of 11 villages near Ain Issa. The SDF also claimed that IS had used several car bombs against their forces. By 11 November, the SDF had captured over a dozen villages and the strategically significant town of Al-Hisbah, which had served as a local headquarters and command center for ISIL. On the next day, the SDF continued to advance against ISIL in the area around Tal Saman and Khnez, bringing the number of captured farms and villages to 26.
As of 14 November, the SDF reported the completion of the initial phase of the operations, stating that 50 km2 has been captured: 34 villages, 31 hamlets and seven strategic hills, along with 167 Islamic State casualties. The SDF had also begun to besiege Tal Saman, the largest village and ISIL headquarters north of Raqqa, while ISIL launched a counter-attack near Salok in the eastern countryside of Al-Raqqah Governorate in order to force the SDF to split its forces and open a new front. On the next day, the SDF advanced into Tal Saman, resulting in a fierce battle with its ISIL defenders. At the same time, the SDF also captured 10 more villages and farms. By 19 November, the SDF had fully captured Tal Saman and had driven ISIL completely from the surrounding countryside. With this, the first phase of the offensive was considered completed.
Second phase: Attempt at blockading Raqqa
- Stalemate and preparation
The second phase of the offensive aims to enforce a full blockade of the city of Raqqa. On 21 November, the SDF captured two more villages, while ISIL launched a counter-attack near Tal Saman. Over the next days, the SDF attempted to further advance, such as at al-Qalita, but was unable to break through ISIL's defense line south of Tal Saman. On 24 November, a US serviceman died from wounds he suffered when stepping on an improvised explosive device near the town of Ayn Issa, north of Raqqa.
On 25 November, ISIL received reinforcements from Iraq, among them explosive experts and defected Iraqi Army personnel. On the next day, ISIL launched a counter-attack, retaking parts of Qaltah village and a nearby Water Pump Station, while the SDF managed to advance in the village's vicinity.
Civil administration of SDF captured territory
On 14 November, the SDF's civilian sister institution, the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), started working on the establishment of a civilian administration to run the city of Raqqa after the expulsion of Islamic State. SDC co-chair Îlham Ehmed was quoted saying that "such an administration could provide a good example for democratic change in Raqqa, especially that the city has been for years a de facto capital for the ISIS terrorist group. This accomplishment would be a major change in the overall situation in Syria, and would help the country move towards stability, democratic change. Raqqa will be an example for the whole country."
- Battle of Raqqa (2013)
- Northern Raqqa offensive (May 2016)
- Cities and towns during the Syrian Civil War
- قوات سوريا الديمقراطية تحرز تقدماً جديداً وترفع إلى 48 عدد القرى والمزارع المسيطر عليها
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