Push for Raqqa: Moscow ready to ‘synchronize’ efforts with US to recapture ISIS capital – Lavrov
A large-scale offensive to liberate an Islamic State stronghold in the Syrian city of Raqqa would go more smoothly and effectively if Washington and Moscow coordinated air support and anti-terror forces on the ground, believes Russian FM Sergey Lavrov.
“[The Liberation of] Raqqa is undoubtedly one of the goals of the anti-terror coalition, as well as the Iraqi city of Mosul,” Lavrov said on Tuesday, noting that the two cities could have been recaptured sooner and more effectively if Russian and American military forces started coordinating their moves.
“Right now there is a chance that such coordination will take place,” Lavrov said, adding that he can “responsibly confirm” that Moscow is ready for such coordination.
“We believe that the Russian air-space forces and those of the US-led coalition should work in a synchronized and coordinated manner and help those on the ground actually confronting terrorist squads,” Lavrov stressed, referring to both the Kurdish militias and the armed forces of the Syrian Arab Republic.
The US-backed coalition of Kurdish-led forces have already started to recapture the area north of Raqqa from IS terrorists, a US official confirmed on Tuesday following a statement made earlier by a representative of the Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD), which declared the beginning of an active phase in the Raqqa offensive.
“The SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] have begun operations to clear the northern countryside, so this is putting pressure on Raqqa,” a Baghdad-based US military spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren said, as quoted by AFP. Warren added that the operation began earlier on Tuesday, and that SDF, a US-backed coalition of armed groups led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), have been met with little resistance from terrorists so far.
According to the spokesman, approximately 3,000 to 5,000 Islamic State fighters are currently in Raqqa. He said, however, it was not clear when an assault on the key city itself might eventually occur.
“We have always been focused on evicting [Islamic State] from Raqqa and we will continue to support the SDF as they conduct ground operations to further isolate the city,” the colonel said, adding that the US-led coalition will continue to provide air support in operations against IS.
Geopolitical analyst Patrick Henningsen, however, told RT he believes that Washington might have a separate agenda in Raqqa.
“The US seems to be very intent on controlling the outcome of what happens in Raqqa, in building their Arab militia forces, ‘friendly’ Arab forces on the ground. But all the while completely ignoring the Syrian Arab Army and the government forces.
So clearly the United States is interested and invested in a certain outcome with regards to what happens in Raqqa and around Raqqa,” Henningsen said.
Nevertheless, the liberation of the city would be the biggest victory against Islamic State in the country, after Syrian government forces reclaimed Palmyra almost two months ago with the support of Russian air and special operations forces.
In an exclusive video captured by an RT Arabic crew, Kurdish and American soldiers can be seen getting ready for the offensive together, with one American soldier proclaiming “I’m from the US and I say kill them all,” expressing a generally proud spirit for taking part in driving terrorists off Syrian land.
Most non-Sunni religious structures in the city have been destroyed by terrorists themselves, like the beautiful Shi'ite Uwais al-Qarni Mosque. In various videos released by IS propaganda resources terrorists can be seen showing off tanks and various ammunition as they parade through the partly-destroyed streets. Stories from people who have been lucky to escape the city have reported the conditions there.
“Sometimes my mom went out onto the street herself, so they couldn't catch me and send me to the 'Lion cubs' squad’,” Mohammad Khalaf, a boy who fled IS-held Raqqa, told RT, referring to IS special combat units, formed of children.
“They [IS terrorists] wanted children to fight alongside them, to blow themselves up,” Mohammad recalls. “Once I saw them cut the head off a man, I do not know what he had done.”
Raqqa was captured by Islamic State in 2013. A year later the city was proclaimed the terror group’s “capital.” The city has since been hit by airstrikes from the Syrian government, Russia, the US and other anti-terror coalition countries.