Obama’s “Turkish Headache” Holds up the Operation to Liberate Raqqa

Turkey continued to mass forces in northern Syria and inside its border with Iraq on Nov. 8, after Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, flew out of Ankara from talks with his counterpart, Gen. Hulusi Akar, chief of Turkey’s General Staff.
Ankara’s muscle-flexing flatly contradicted Gen. Dunford’s amiable assertion after those talks: “Obviously, as a close ally, we really just want to make sure that we’re completely tight as we work through some challenging issues.”
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources report that Washington’s issues with Ankara are far more acute and complicated than these conflicting messages indicate. The crossed wires began last week, when President Barack Obama suddenly ordered the Pentagon to launch the long-delayed operation to throw ISIS out of its Syrian bastion of Raqqa.
The US military command was caught unready. In fact, none of the necessary US forces were present on the ground.
Brett McGurk, the US presidential envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, called a hurried press conference at the US embassy in Amman on Sunday, Nov. 6, for an ad lib statement. He announced that the Syrian Democratic Forces had embarked on an operation to free Raqqa.The SDF, which is made up of Kurdish YPG militias and US-trained Syrian Arab rebels, echoed him.
Had those statements represented real action, they would have been sensational. They fell flat because the coalition assault on Raqqa had not really begun. Several weeks of preparation were still needed.
This is why Gen. Dunford was more cautious than the presidential envoy when he said: “The SDF are moving south to isolate the enemy that’s in the vicinity of Raqqa and in Raqqa.” He added. “We always advertised that the isolation phase is going to take months.”
But Turkey had already reacted. The US announcements on Raqqa prompted the Turkish army to send military reinforcements to two sensitive spots. Those concentrations added another obstacle to the impediments piling up against Obama’s order to launch an early operation for evicting ISIS from its Syrian bastion.
They are outlined here by DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources:
1. The SDF’s conquest of the Tel Abyad district of northern Raqqa province in the spring of 2015 brought its forces to a line just 30km north of Raqqa city.
From this long frontline, the Kurdish-led SDF could be in position for a multipronged offensive – if only they possessed a large number of heavy armored vehicles for taking this territory. But they don’t and Turkey is not likely to allow heavy hardware to be delivered to the Kurdish troops through its border.
2. Before directly tackling Raqqa, the SDF’s most logical course would be to capture Tabqa city and Thawra Dam 40km to the west. They could then cross the Euphrates through the dam and cut off an ISIS retreat route. Thawra is also valuable as the main source of electricity for the Euphrates Valley.
This plan looks feasible – but only on paper, because it too runs into the Turkish obstacle. What is to stop the Turkish troops occupying northern Syria from executing a lightning assault on Tel Abyad?
If this happened while the YPG-led SDF was in the middle of advancing on Raqqa, the Kurds would face the ruin of all their hard-won military and territorial gains of the past two years, and have to write finis on their hopes of an independent state.
This peril is not lost on the Kurds. They will therefore hardly be prevailed upon to expose their Tel Abyad Achilles Heel to their Turkish enemy.
3. Any Turkish attempt to grab Tel Abyad would ignite a violent conflagration between the YPG-led SDF and the Turkish army in northern Syria. ISIS would sit back in Raqqa and enjoy the spectacle of the forces assigned to destroying the jihadists locked in bloody combat against each other.

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