SDF spokesman Talal Silo stated the “nice battle to liberate town” can be fierce as a result of ISIS fighters “will die to defend their so-called capital.”

Raqqa is essential to ISIS, each symbolically and strategically.

When it was seized in early 2014, the northern Syrian metropolis was anointed because the nerve middle of the group’s sprawling forms. It additionally grew to become the hub for planning abroad terror assaults — particularly in France and Belgium — as a result of so many overseas fighters referred to as it residence.

Who’s participating within the operation?

The bottom forces comprise a mix of Syrian Kurdish and Arab factions, in addition to Assyrian Christians. The Kurds belong to the YPG militia and its ladies’s wing, the YPJ, and are seen by the US navy as its simplest associate in northern Syria.

They’ve joined with Arab militia beneath the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Altogether there are some 60,000 YPG fighters in northern Syria, of whom some 30,000 are prone to be dedicated to the Raqqa offensive. The Arab militia are most likely 20,000-strong.

In latest months, the US floor presence has been bolstered by an inflow of particular forces and advisers; there are actually an estimated 500 US personnel in northern Syria.

The US-led coalition has additionally begun supplying the SDF with heavier gear, akin to mortars and anti-tank weapons, to counter suicide automobile bombs. Different help consists of intelligence, battlefield recommendation and focusing on help.

How massive is ISIS’ presence within the metropolis?

It is laborious to inform.

Estimating ISIS’ energy in Raqqa has been made tougher by reviews that among the group’s factions have already left town — heading out throughout the desert in direction of Palmyra or east alongside the Euphrates river in direction of Deir Ezzor.

And whereas the US-led coalition’s intense aerial bombardment of town over the previous couple of months has taken a toll, it is tough to quantify.

The coalition just lately estimated ISIS numbers in Raqqa at three,000 to four,000 fighters, however it could be on the decrease finish of that vary by now.

What’s life like inside Raqqa?

It is precarious.

With a lot of town destroyed, the bridges over the Euphrates wrecked, and shortages of primary items, life for civilians caught in Raqqa is hell.

Over the previous few weeks, civilians have streamed out of town. Those who make it to security inform SDF forces and humanitarian organizations of fixed bombardment, an absence of energy and water.

Earlier than the civil struggle broke out, town had greater than 200,000 inhabitants; newest estimates counsel 100,000 are nonetheless there.

Teams such because the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights have reported civilian casualties in airstrikes, together with the demise of 21 individuals who had been attempting to flee town by boat on Monday.

The one upside to life there now? Residents, who’ve since left, say ISIS police and fighters are much less pervasive. In keeping with some reports, ISIS has stopped imposing a ban on smoking, for instance.

How lengthy will the operation take?

A Kurdish soldier cleans his weapon.A Kurdish soldier cleans his weapon.

It is unimaginable to foretell, however not even the SDF expects a fast victory in Raqqa. The group insists that it desires to keep away from civilian casualties, which is able to extend the marketing campaign.

ISIS has had practically three years to arrange for this second, and (as in Mosul) is believed to have constructed an intensive community of tunnels and defensive blast partitions. However the metropolis is surrounded on three sides, and that is a variety of actual property to defend.

A lot is determined by whether or not ISIS fighters choose to go away Raqqa and regroup elsewhere, or keep and battle to the demise.

MORE: Long struggle looms in battle for ISIS heartland

What occurs to Raqqa when ISIS is overthrown?

The SDF has stated that as a largely Arab metropolis, Raqqa shall be administered by its Arab parts. Traditionally, town has had little Kurdish presence. Earlier than the outbreak of the civil struggle an estimated 10% of its inhabitants was Christian.

To many navy observers, it is unlikely that the Syrian regime will tolerate the SDF operating a provincial capital. Its military has already begun to maneuver towards Raqqa, although it is nonetheless far away.

Final yr, Russia talked about coordinating town’s liberation with the US, however there isn’t a signal of that now.

The place does that depart ISIS?

ISIS is operating out of locations to go. When the group is evicted from Raqqa it is going to lose the final vestige of any “governance” of its so-called caliphate. But it surely’s not simply dropping management of territory, it is also dropping the power to maneuver freely between Syria and Iraq — particularly since Iraqi militia seized the important thing city of Baaj final week.

The coalition hopes that the lack of Raqqa and Mosul will boring ISIS’ enchantment to potential recruits.

“It is laborious to persuade new recruits that ISIS is a successful trigger once they simply misplaced their twin ‘capitals’ in each Iraq and Syria,” Normal Steve Townsend, the coalition’s commanding common, stated.