Articles

US-backed forces were supposed to assault ISIS capital two weeks ago

The start date of the offensive to oust Islamic State fighters from the city of Raqqa and end the terror group's state-building project has been announced several times in the past few months, often with great fanfare by commanders in the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, the United States' ground ally in northern Syria.


The last announcement came in March when Kurdish commanders said an assault on the city would begin April 1.

Two weeks later that start date, like many others, has come and gone, prompting the months-long question: when will the U.S.-backed SDF offensive shift gears from isolating Raqqa, which is hemmed in on three sides now, to mounting an assault to retake the capital of the jihadists' self-styled caliphate?

A Marine directs an F/A-18D Hornet returning to an undisclosed location in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, Syria, and the wider international community, June 9, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Donald Holbert)

Over the weekend, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the French news agency AFP he would support whomever wants to oust Islamic State militants from Raqqa, but mocked the delay in an assault on the city, which U.S. officials believe is being defended by around 4,000 IS fighters.

"What we hear is only allegations about liberating Raqqa. We've been hearing that for nearly a year now, or less than a year, but nothing happened on the ground," he said. "It's not clear who is going to liberate Raqqa...It's not clear yet."

No firm answer about a new start date was forthcoming on April 15 from U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis when he met in Washington with his Turkish counterpart, Fikri Isik.

The Turkish defense minister again complicated the U.S. effort to choreograph an agreement among multiple local and international players about a Raqqa offensive by pressing Ankara's long-standing demand for the U.S. to end its alliance with the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, whose fighters dominate the ranks of the SDF.

There were no signs that the Turkish request made persistently by Ankara in recent months, and relayed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a February phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump, will be heeded.

U.S. officials say they envisage the Raqqa battle will resemble the fight in neighboring Iraq, where local indigenous forces have been waging the struggle to retake the northern city of Mosul, the last IS major urban stronghold in that country.

Also read: Defeating ISIS is hard; preventing ISIS 3.0 could be harder

Some 500 U.S. special forces soldiers deployed in northern Syria are helping to train and advise SDF units.

Mattis later said at a press conference the U.S. remains in solidarity with Ankara when it comes to fighting Islamic State militants and Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, but he made no mention of discontinuing the alliance with the YPG, the armed wing of Syria's Democratic Union Party, or PYD.

The Turks, who fear the emergence of a Kurdish state in north Syria, maintain there's no real distinction between the PYD and the PKK, which has been waging an insurgency in Turkey for more than three decades.

A U.S. Army M109A6 Paladin deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. (Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Christopher Brecht)

Mattis cited the long security relationship between the U.S. and Turkey, dating back to 1952 when Turkey joined NATO; but, in the wake of the April 16 constitutional referendum that greatly enhances the Turkish president's powers, analysts say it is unclear how much Erdogan values his country's alliance with the West, and whether his slim victory will embolden him to disrupt a Raqqa assault by the SDF.

Earlier in April, Erdogan ramped up the pressure on Washington, saying his government is planning new offensives in northern Syria this spring against groups deemed terrorist organizations by Ankara, including IS and the PYD's militia.

In March, Turkish forces escalated attacks on the YPG in northern Syria, forcing the U.S. to deploy a small number of forces in and around the town of Manbij to the northwest of Raqqa to "deter" Turkish-SDF clashes and ensure the focus remains on Islamic State.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is being pummeled by airstrikes mounted by U.S.-led coalition forces and Syrian warplanes.

Local anti-IS activists say the air raids fail to distinguish between military and non-military targets; however, with IS fighters seeded throughout the city and surrounding villages, being able to draw a distinction is become increasingly challenging, say U.S. officials.

U.S. Airmen load pallets of nonlethal aid for the Syrian Opposition Coalition onto a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at an undisclosed base May 9, 2013. U.S. forces provided humanitarian aid to refugees of the Syrian civil war. (Dept. of Defense photo by Staff Sgt. Nicole Manzanares, U.S. Air Force)

"Civilians are now [caught] between the criminal terrorists on one side and the international coalition's indiscriminate bombing on the other side," said Hamoud Almousa, a founding member of the activist network Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which is opposed to an assault on the city being led by the YPG.

"Liberating [Raqqa] does not come by burning it and destroying it over its people who have suffered a lot from the terrorist group's violations," he added.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitoring group that relies on a network of activists for its information, said that four civilians — two women and two children — were killed April 17 in an airstrike believed to have been carried out by coalition warplanes on the Teshreen Farmarea north of Raqqa.

The Observatory says between March 1 and April 10, airstrikes killed 224 civilians. They included 38 children under the age of 18, and 37 women.

Another mainly Arab anti-IS activist network, Eye on the Homeland, complains at the lack of international condemnation about the civilian casualties from the airstrikes, arguing civilians caught in the conflict are being treated inhumanely.

"We assert that the liberation of civilians from all forms of terrorism requires that military forces acting in the area avoid civilian killing, displacement, and the destruction of their properties whenever possible," the network said recently on its website.

It warned the deaths will "be used to by terrorist organizations in their propaganda to convince civilians that these military forces do not have their interests at heart" and will "only further fuel radicalization."

Lists

The 6 dumbest things I thought knew about the military before joining

When I joined the military, I didn't have a lot of time for things like "background research" or "making an informed decision about doing something that might affect the rest of my life." I didn't even look into which branch I should join. I just walked up to the line at the recruiters' offices. Like a drunk stumbling through the streets late at night on the hunt for food, I went with whatever was open at the moment I got there.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less

5 of the stupidest diseases you can develop at the gym

Ladies and gentlemen, for years, we've noticed an ongoing problem that occurs when certain people at the gym are looking for a little extra attention. After completing just a few repetitions of a weighted exercise, gym-goers develop horrible douchebag diseases that, over time, become harder to reverse.

If you know anyone who suffers from these or similar ailments, please contact a gym professional for immediate treatment.

Keep reading... Show less
Humor

11 memes that will remind you how boot you were

Newbies who first enter the military typically have a pretty tough time. They are continuously reminded that they suck by their superiors and are treated like children 99% of the time.

Now, fast forward in your military career a few years and, hopefully, you're an NCO by now. You look upon the boots who've just joined and probably say to yourself, "I hope I was never that bad..."

Keep reading... Show less

North Korea is still hitting 17 countries with cyber attacks

A North Korea-linked hacking group has been tied to a series of cyberattacks spanning 17 countries, far larger than initially thought.

A new report by McAfee Advanced Threat Research found a major hacking campaign, dubbed Operation GhostSecret, sought to steal sensitive data from a wide range of industries including critical infrastructure, entertainment, finance, healthcare, and telecommunications.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

6 things platoon medics absolutely hate

Navy Corpsmen and Army medics are some of the best medical professionals in the world who go above and beyond to render care to sick and wounded troops in the line of duty.

Although the armed forces' "docs" have earned tons of combat decorations throughout their proud history, not every part of the job feels valorous or glamorous. In fact, many docs must accomplish tasks they absolutely hate in order to do their job well. Here are just a few of unpleasant functions the job requires.

Keep reading... Show less

The US slammed Russia for moving more weapons into Syria

Russia has ratcheted up military tensions in Syria by announcing it would send the advanced S-300 missile defense system to Syria, and the US military had a savage response.

Asked for comment on the announced movement of the missile defense batteries to Syria, Maj. Josh T. Jacques of the US Military's Central Command, which covers the Middle East, said Russia "should move humanitarian aid into Syria, not more weaponry."

Keep reading... Show less
History

9 times the world stepped back from the brink of nuclear war

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 marked the end of the World War II, and the beginning of the age of nuclear weapons.

During the Cold War, the policy of mutually assured destruction between the US and the Soviet Union — appropriately referred to as "MAD" — meant that if one nation used nuclear weapons on another, then an equal response would have been doled out as soon as possible.

Keep reading... Show less