The Battle of Raqqa has being going on for two months. One of the commanders of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) of the so called “Great Battle”, is Klara Raqqa
The Battle of Raqqa has being going on for two months. One of the commanders of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) of the so called “Great Battle”, is Klara Raqqa. She assesses the current situation and say that the SDF will finally be able to announce the good news of the liberation of Raqqa in a month or two.
The operation launched by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to expel the ISIS gangs from Raqqa has being dubbed the “Great Battle”. SDF fighters are constantly advancing from the eastern, western, southern and northern fronts, in such a way that we could say they are actually liberating the city from the ISIS gangs step by step, meter by meter.
Nine neighbourhoods and several strategic areas previously in the hands of ISIS gangs have been freed by the SDF and thousands of civilians have been rescued.
In the neighbourhoods of Rawda, Raqqa’s old city, Hisam Abdulmalîk, Nazlat Shahadê and al-Barid clashes are continuing and they are at a critical point. Winning control over those neighbourhoods will ultimately destroy ISIS attack power.
One of the commanders of the SDF is Klara Raqqa. She explained the current military situation to ANF. She talks of the urban warfare the SDF are waging, the tactics ISIS is using, the situation of the civilians, the participation of the YJŞ and their martyrs.
“The operation to liberate Raqqa, which we have dubbed the ‘Great Battle’ has entered its third month. – she said – The operation we launched is going according to plans and we claim success. This operation has been an urban battle. Urban battles are not comparable with a battle on the field. We had to use new tactics and strategies. And I refer above all to Raqqa, the so called ‘capital’ of ISIS. The Islamic State gangs have organised and prepared themselves to defend and resist in this city in every aspects for years”.
Commander Klara continues, adding that “If you had asked anyone in the past if Raqqa would be liberated and ISIS expelled, they would have said that it was nothing but a dream. Yet – she said – the SDF, YPG and YPJ have paid a high price to make this dream true”.
50% of the city of Raqqa is now ISIS-free
As to how much of Raqqa has actually been freed so far, Klara said that “At this moment 50% of the city has been liberated. Our first target was to surround the city from all sides. And this we d id in the first stage of the battle. That has meant the whole operation could continue with success. We took control of many neighbourhoods. Now several areas that the ISIS gangs had used as their battle centres are actually under control of our forces”.
Commander Klara underlines that “Urban warfare is beyond any comparison with other type of battle. You need to act with extreme precaution and you need to plan every step. For instance, seizing a tall building can give the battle an unexpected turn. We, the SDF – she continues – are providing the public with daily news and feedbacks. The public knows very well that the ISIS gangs are planting mines anywhere they can. They are digging endless tunnels and try to ambush us. In order to prevent our fighters being wounded or killed, we are making a huge effort to be well organised and proceed with extra attention and care. We are aware of the fact that a lot of people living outside are questioning our strategy and say we are advancing slowly. We are also aware of the fact that some are actively spreading propaganda against us. We know only too well that there are many circles that actually want us to fail”.
Those who wanted us to fail have been defeated
Commander Klara remembers that “Prior to the launch of the Raqqa Operation some of our comrades have fallen martyrs in the airstrikes launched by the Turkish state on Mount Karachok (Qereçox). The Turkish army tried to invade our land from Tal Abyad. But they were not able to reach their goals in Manbij and al-Bab. And that’s why they turned to Efrîn. They actually thought that their attacks against Efrîn would actually prevent the Raqqa Operation from succeeding. What they didn’t calculate is that no attack could weaken us. On the contrary, we have become stronger. Our desires to continue fighting are actually growing”.
Commander Raqqa underlines that “Despite all attacks and denigration campaigns, our people stood alongside with their fighters, who are fighting daily battles, sacrificing their lives and suffering hunger and thirst in the desert heat uncompromisingly. The Arab people stood up for us as well: young boys and girls joined our ranks. Our operation has become bigger and bigger and the plans and efforts of our enemies have been frustrated”.
We put civilians first
Commander Klara touched upon one of most dramatic issue in this war, the safety of the civilians. “ISIS gangs are using civilians as human shields in the areas still under their control. They don’t make any difference between women or children. I want to share a heroic act that occurred a few days ago. Two of our comrades, members of the Rescue Team, fell martyrs after they saved the life of a group of civilians from a bomb-laden car which the ISIS gangs planned to explode amidst local people”.
The mere fact that the ISIS gangs are using civilians as human shields alone, actually proves to Commander Klara “that they are in their final days. We are talking about such a mentality which keeps inflicting civilian casualties even while breathing their last breath. Sometimes ISIS members wear suicide belts to launch attacks instead of the usual 2 to 3 bomb-laden vehicles they use. Most of those attacks – she says – are being foiled by our fighters. We have an army consisting of fighters who are protecting life even when it means sacrificing theirs for the safety of civilians against a group whose only desire is to throw everything into death and destruction. Let’s state this clear: we will we win”.
The operation continues slowly in order to protect civilians
Commander Klara explains that “The reason why our operation is advancing a bit slowly, is precisely because the ISIS gangs are deliberately attacking the civilian population. Of course we have opened a corridor for the civilians. One of our teams is clearing the roads from all landmines and boobytraps. But peril lurks in the disguise of countless of ISIS gang members dressed as civilians and even as women. For this reason our teams are proceeding with extra caution”.
This clearly takes its toll in psychological terms. “On the one side – commander Klara says – your comrades are falling martyrs, and on the other side you see the corpses of children. Yet our forces are doing all that is in their power to secure victory. The attitude is this: the operation can be delayed, because we have to save the lives of these children, so little they haven’t even begun to play. They are just babies, they can’t even talk yet. We owe these children and babies a better life. Children, women, babies, it does not matter. The safety of our people, their life, is more important than a fast success of the operation”.
New units joined the battle: the YJŞ
Commander Klara shares details of a new arrival on the battlefield. “The operation has indeed reached its current stage thanks to many participating forces. The first statement issued by the SDF stated this very clearly. But in these last couple of weeks – she adds – other units joined the battle, and this is a very meaningful and sacred participation for us. Our female Yezîdî fighters, the Shengal Women’s Units, YJŞ, have arrived”.
Commander Klara underlines that “in Raqqa countless women and children were and still are subject to violence, oppressions, terror, abuse, rape and torture. Many have been massacred. Many of them are still being kept hostages in Raqqa. The fighters of the YJŞ are fighting on the front line with great generosity. This is their real revenge on ISIS, this bunch of thugs who are viewing women and children as war loots with their mentality of the middle ages. They showed their mentality in Kobanê, as well as in Shengal”.
The Women Defence Units, both the YPJ and the YJŞ, represent, Commander Klara says, “the reality we are living: women have torn apart the chains of enslavement. And for this reason we say the arrival of the YJŞ in Raqqa is a deeply meaningful and sacred step. They are not waiting for their brothers, fathers or any other man to come and save the women, they themselves have taken the lead. We, the YPJ have said at the beginning of the operation: ‘The streets and fortresses in Raqqa, where women were chained up and sold into slavery will be destroyed by women themselves. The mentality of ISIS will be buried. And women will again generate life in Raqqa’. With the participation of the YPJ and YJŞ we are fulfilling our promise now”.
Our thoughts are with all our martyrs
“The Raqqa Operation has reached this phase thank to the sacrifice of our martyrs”, says Commander Klara and adds: “Old commanders have fallen martyrs. Comrade Şevîn was one of our cadre commanders. Her participation, her resistance, her altruism in everyday life and her spirit of comradeship is what is left to us, as an inspirational way to live our life”.
There was comrade Sozdar, too… “She was a tremendously cherished comrade and had joined the movement long ago. Her desire to fight ISIS took her from one front to another. No matter how much we asked her to stay on the backlines, she would say: ‘No, I have to be with my comrades’, and always stayed on the frontline, no matter what. This operation is so successful thanks to these brave women and to our comrades who have fallen and are our martyrs. We will never forget them and their sacrifice”.
We believe we’ll soon hear good news
At the end of this long conversation Commander Klara underlines once again that “we have achieved our goals so far, everything is going according to our plan. Nothing can stop us from finish this for good, not the bad propaganda, nor any other sort of attack against us. Thanks to the energy we get from the laughter of children and our people we are confident we will be able to announce the good news of the liberation of Raqqa within the next couple of months”.
This article by Erem Kansoy first appeared in the newspaper Yeni Özgür Politika. Translated into English by ANF and Global Rights