Pentagon Not Too Optimistic About Plan To Retake ISIS Capital

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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Defense officials anonymously admit their strategy to retake the Islamic State capital of Raqqa has multiple roadblocks, The Washington Post reports.

“This is one of the situations in which we have contacts and influence over all the actors. But we’re not in perfect control,” a U.S. defense official told the Post. The defense officials comments come after U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told NBCNews in late October the operation “starts in the next few weeks.”

Army Lt. Gen Stephen Townsend told reporters Thursday the U.S. is anxious to begin operations to disrupt plots hatched in Raqqa to attack the west. U.S. backed forces reportedly found evidence of Syrian ISIS connections to terrorist plots in Europe when they retook the city of Manbij in September, Townsend indicated. “Coming out of Manbij, we found links to individuals and plot streams to France, the United States, other European countries,” he elaborated. “We know that this is going on in Raqqa as well,” Townsend continued. “And so I think that’s why it’s necessary to get down there to Raqqa.”

The major roadblock to the Pentagon’s plans come from U.S. and NATO ally Turkey, who heavily object to the main U.S. proxy in Syria. The U.S. plan to retake Raqqa hinges on the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF are composed of an ethnic coalition of fighters concentrated on fighting ISIS over the Assad regime. The SDF draws significant pushback from NATO ally Turkey, for its dependence on ethnic Kurdish forces. Turkey claims to have killed 200 U.S.-backed fighters as recently as Oct. 20.

Turkey invaded northern Syria in late August, 2016, specifically to prevent Kurdish SDF forces from controlling too much territory. Turkey regards a Kurdish state as a threat to its existence, just as it views ISIS. “We’re going to go with who can go, who’s willing to go soon,” Townsend told reporters, indicating Kurdish fighters will participate in the Raqqa operation.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly urged President Barack Obama not to allow Kurdish fighters to participate in the operation, but Obama told him the decision was final.

“There’s a choice here that the American administration has to make, between doing this expeditiously and doing this right, in a way that is sustainable,” former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford cautioned the Post.

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