The leader of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia Sîpan Hemo told Reuters on March 17 that a US-backed assault to drive Islamic State from Raqqa would begin in early April and the YPG will be part of the operation.
Hemo rarely appears in the media.
In a written reply to questions from Reuters relayed via a YPG spokesperson, Hemo said:
“Regarding the decision to liberate Raqqa and storm it, the matter is decided and at the start of the month of April the military operation will begin.”
“We believe that liberating Raqqa will not take more than a number weeks.”
On March 9, SDF spokesperson Talal Silo said: “We expect that within a few weeks there will be a siege of the city.”
On February 10, Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said there was no set date to begin the operation to retake the city. “There is an imperative for us to take Raqqa quickly because it is the one place within the area which [Islamic State] controls that has, we know, the greatest amount of foreign external plotting happening in it.”
YPG to comprise 25% of Raqqa liberation force
“Of the total force for storming Raqqa, 25 percent are YPG, who are set apart in their combat experience and high-level command skills directing battles in cities.”
Air Force Col John Dorrian, spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, said on March 15 that Kurds would be involved in liberating Raqqa, but he declined to confirm that the YPG would be involved.
“What I would say is that we continue working with the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian Arab Coalition. Right about 75% of that force that is now isolating Raqqa is Syrian Arab. And this is a reflection that is demographically fairly consistent with what you would find in that area.
“That is a fundamental principle of the campaign.
“We are going to try and generate with our partner force, a force that is fairly consistent with what you find in Raqqa and that includes Syrian Arabs, that includes Kurds, that includes Assyrians, Christians, all others.
“The Syrian Democratic Forces are a multi-ethnic and multi-sectarian organisation and that is one of the reasons we are working with them.”
“We expect the demographic makeup of the force that liberates the city will likely reflect the residents of the city, either the present ones or the historic presence within the city. So, we do expect there to be Kurds involved.”
US forces to support Raqqa campaign
Dorrian said on March 9 that US Marines artillery units would be working with the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian Arab Coalition on the Raqqa operation but would not have a frontline role.
Writing in the Washington Post, Tom Gibbons-Neff and Dan Lamothe said the troops were part of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and included parts of an artillery battery that can fire M777 Howitzers.
Images and video of US military vehicles in transit in northern Syria were shared on social media beginning on March 9.