US armored Humvees driving this week from Iraqi Kurdistan to Syria
Except for one missing factor, the United States is in advanced preparations for the operation to oust the Islamic State from Raqqa, its Syrian stronghold, as Mission Mosul winds down in Iraq. Tuesday, March 28, a large convoy of trucks, with the KRG numbers plates of the semiautonomous Kurdish government of Iraq, crossed into Syria at the Semalka border post. Some were heavily laden with arms and ammunition; others hauled armored personnel carriers.
debkafile’s military sources report that the convoys were carrying the war materiel a US airlift is dropping at the KRG capital of Irbil. It includes quantities of heavy submachine guns and light artillery for the Syrian Democratic Forces which are about to lead the US-backed assault on Raqqa.
Two-thirds of the 50,000-60,000-strong SDF consists of Syrian YPG Kurdish militiamen (which can muster up to 75,000 fighters with reserves); the other third are Arab tribesmen from northern Syria.
Three days later, on March 30, Ankara suddenly announced the termination of Operation Euphrates Shield, which was launched with the Turkish invasion of Aug. 24, 2016 and its occupation of 6,000sq,km of land in northern Syria, including later the town of Al Bab, north of Aleppo.
While Ankara claimed Thursday that the Euphrates Operation was terminated after accomplishing its mission, our military sources report that the Turkish army missed its three main objectives:
1. It failed to lay down a 650sq.km security zone ranging from the Turkish-Syrian-Iraqi triangle at one end to the Mediterranean,at the other.
2. The key Syrian town of Manbij remained in the hands of the SDF i.e. Kurdish control.
3. Turkish troops were unable to dislodge the YPG forces strung along the Turkish border.
Turkey was forced to abandon those objectives by a combined ultimatum slapped down by the US and Russia to cut short its Operation Euphrates, debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report.
The Kurdish heads of the SDF had warned the two powers that they would undertake to lead the Raqqa offensive only on two conditions: First, they demanded guarantees that the Turkish troops deployed to their rear would not take advantage of their absence to seize defenseless Kurdish towns and lands and; secondly, that the Turkish army would not take part in the Raqqa offensive, in any shape or form.
Over and above the official statement, Ankara was also obliged to pledge that Turkish forces would not advance one inch outside their current lines in northern Syria.
To give their ultimatum teeth, American troops took up positions at Manbij opposite Turkish lines, while the Russians moved a unit into the eastern Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin facing the Turkish border.
American weapons shipments were meanwhile arriving to arm the SDF force preparing to storm Raqqa. It was then discovered that by excluding any Turkish military role in the operation (as they did for the Mosul offensive), the Americans had left the Kurdish fighters without a tank force for leading the assault. This could have been provided by the Turkish army.
The importance of tanks for the operation is assessed by comparing the military challenges posed by the Mosul and Raqqa offensives.
The battle for Mosul is already going into its seventh month – and still not over – although it is being fought against 2,000 ISIS jihadis by 100,000 Iraq troops backed by American elite forces and heavy artillery.
More than 3,000 jihadists are present to defend Raqqa, according to intelligence estimates put before the US command planners of the operation. They include local Arab tribesmen some of whom they hope may desert, although this is far from certain.
Military experts watching American preparations for the Raqqa operation find that the US planners’ estimate that no more than 15,000 troops are needed capture Raqqa is over-optimistic; and without a tank force, even massive US air support may not be enough to win the day. The APCs the Americans are flying in for the Kurdish units are too few.
At the same time, a decision in Washington to supply tanks would certainly be met with Russian and Turkey objections. It would moreover set the operation back by several months while Kurdish crews are taught how to use them in operational combat.