Support Russia Insider - Go Ad-Free!

Why the 200 Extra Troops the US Just Sent to Syria Won't Help It Win the Race for Raqqa

Problem is political, not military. US has to tell Turkey to cool off, or the Kurds won't budge


When Obama announced the Mosul operation in October (just in time to boost Democrats' anti-ISIS credentials for the election) his Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter followed and announced a paralel offensive on Raqqa.

Ideally Mosul offensive would have seen the city liberated from ISIS before Obama steps down in January. Instead Iraqis and Americans seem bogged down with little daily progress.

The paralel Raqqa operation has if anything fared even worse. The Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Foces (SDF) have captured a few villages here and there, moved the front line a few kilometers but strategically there has been no substantial change.

In this context it is easy to see why Ash Carter is sending an additional 200 special operations troops to join the 300 specialf forces already in Kurdish-held northern Syria.

This however won't actually do much for Carter. Reality is that the US problem in Raqqa was never so much a military one, as political.

Reinforcing the SDF further is nice and dandy but what the Kurds really need is for the Americans to get Turkey off its back.

Since the start of the Turkih incursion into northern Syria in August the Turkish military has been shelling and bombing the SDF on a daily basis and threatening to launch an offensive against the SDF and dislodge it from the city of Manbij. And obviously the optimal moment for such an offensive would be when most SDF units were committed to Raqqa battle.

The Kurds weren't necessarily all that excited about dying to expel ISIS from Arab-majority Raqqa in the first place -- they would have rather fought a battle to connect the two northern Syrian territories under their control. But with Turks poised to pounce on them the moment they turn their backs their enthusiasm for Raqqa is at an all-time low.

Unfortunately for the Americans without the Kurds there is no Raqqa offensive. The Arab component of the SDF is nowhere near strong enough to advance against ISIS on its own.

The solution then seems obvious. If US wants Raqqa it has to muzzle Erdogan. It has to make it clear to Ankara no move against Syrian Kurds will be tolerated and stand behind the warning with its own forces.

The only way 200 US troops could have a major outcome on the Raqqa operation is if they were distributed on the SDF side of the Turkish-Kurdish frontline to act as human shields and deter Erdogan's air force from continously bombing the Kurds. 

Short of that progress to Raqqa will continue to be measured in inches.


Support Russia Insider - Go Ad-Free!

Our commenting rules: You can say pretty much anything except the F word. If you are abusive, obscene, or a paid troll, we will ban you. Full statement from the Editor, Charles Bausman.