On June 6, the Central Command of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led military operation against Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq, announced that “the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and their Syrian Arab Coalition partners launched the offensive to unseat ISIS from its so-called ‘capital’ of Raqqa
in northern Syria.”
Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF–OIR), said the fight for Raqqa would be “long and difficult” but would deliver a “decisive blow to the idea of ISIS as a physical caliphate.” He added: “It’s hard to convince new recruits that ISIS is a winning cause when they just lost their twin ‘capitals’ in both Iraq and Syria.”
Three days after the Raqqa offensive started, the commander of the Russian troops stationed in Syria, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, accused the U.S. and Syrian Democratic Forces of colluding with IS.
Citing “available reliable information,” the Russian commander said that “in early June ISIL terrorists entered into collusion with the command of the Kurdish armed units, which are part of the Democratic Forces Union, left the populated localities of Tadia and al-Hamam located 19 kilometers southwest of Raqqa offering no resistance and headed toward Palmyra."
Multiple sources have reported that the Syrian Democratic Forces have successfully carried out attacks north, east and west of Raqqa, while the areas south of the city remain under IS control.
In light of those reports, the Russian commander’s statement that the Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the U.S., granted IS forces safe passage through territory they do not control does not appear credible.
In an email to Polygraph.info, the Kurdish forces’ press office dismissed Russia’s allegations as untrue.
“The alleged news from an official of the Russian Defense Ministry is far from the truth and aims at distorting the reputation of Syrian Democratic Forces,” said People's Protection Units (YPG) spokesman Nuri Mehmud. “We at the frontlines announce that our fight against IS thugs is continuing despite all the difficulties. We ask those who make those claims to release their evidence to the public.”
According to the U.S. Central Command, the Syrian Democratic Forces have “encouraged civilians to depart Raqqah so that they do not become trapped, used as human shields or become targets for ISIS snipers.”
These safety precautions aimed at reducing civilian casualties have been undermined by the ferocity with which Islamic State continues to fight to hold on to Raqqa despite Russian allegations that IS terrorists are leaving their territory without putting up a fight.
“This ranks as quintessential Kremlin disinformation,” Brian Williams, author of the book “Counter Jihad: America's Military Experience in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria,” told Polygraph.info. “All reports on the ground are that ISIS is still diligent at defending Raqqa ferociously.”
Both the Pentagon and Operation Inherent Resolve U.S. Central Command told Polygraph.info that allegations the United States would collaborate with Islamic State have no basis in the truth.
Responding to the Russian commander’s claim that IS terrorists were given safe passage to continue fighting Syrian government forces, a CJTF–Operation Inherent Resolve spokesperson told Polygaph.info via email that the U.S.-led coalition “does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them”
Still, the spokesperson said: “The demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces near Coalition and partner forces in southern Syria, however, continue to concern us and the Coalition will take appropriate measures to protect our forces.”
The CJTF–OIR spokesperson added: “The Coalition calls on all parties to focus their efforts in the same direction -- to defeat ISIS, which is our common enemy and the greatest threat to regional and worldwide peace and security.”