ISIS ENDGAME: US-BACKED KURDS CLOSING IN ON RAQQAH


The war against ISIS is nearing its climax, both in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, ISIS is slowly losing the battle for Mosul, while in Syria, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (essentially Kurds with a few Arabs) are closing in on Raqqah, the capital of the ISIS "Caliphate." 

The latest battles have centered on the Euphrates Dam, which has created a large lake in this otherwise dry area. Recently, SDF forces captured the Northern end of the dam, but have been held off by ISIS fighters who still control the South end of the dam. The US Air Force is reluctant to bomb the dam, as this might cause it to break and create a dangerous flood, with heavy civilian casualties downstream in ISIS territory.

In an attempt to dislodge ISIS, US helicopters airlifted SDF forces across the lake created by the dam to seize the Tabqa airbase in a daring outflanking maneuver.
 This move is also seen by some as an attempt to block any advance on Raqqah by the Syrian Army from the West.


America's use of Kurds as ground troops has worsened relations between Turkey and the US, so there is some speculation that the airbase has been seized so that US forces can use it instead of their Incirlik base 
in Turkey. 

SDF forces have already established positions to the West, North, and East of Raqqah. The seizure of the Euphrates Dam and the adjacent town of Al-Thawrah would clear the way to close in on the ISIS capital from the South West, practically surrounding it and preparing the way for what is expected to be a fanatical battle involving high civilian casualties.


But even with ISIS out of the way, Syria will remain a powder keg, with at least three major forces remaining, Turkish backed Sunni Arabs, US-backed Kurds, and the Russian-backed Assad government.

Recently there has been growing convergence between the Russian and Turkish positions. Turkey's main interest in the war now is to prevent Syrian Kurds becoming independent, as this would spark off independence moves by its own large Kurdish minority. 

The only realistic way to achieve this is to support the reestablishment of a central Syrian power. Because of Russian, Iranian, and even Iraqi support, this could only be Assad. 

In this scenario the Kurds would have to settle for the kind of autonomy they now have in Iraq. But, armed to the teeth by America and with additional weapons seized from ISIS, there is some doubt that they will sign off on such a deal.

 
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