What Comes After the Liberation of Raqqa?
News 24 Oct 2017

What Comes After the Liberation of Raqqa?

The recapture of Raqqa from Isil by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is a major milestone in the fight against the so-called Islamic State..

The SDF has fought a lengthy battle against Isil on the front line in Syria, and has been the major on-the-ground defense against the terrorist group in Syria. However, others have pointed out that the SDF managed to take over Raqqa quicker than anticipated partly because of the deals they brokered with Isil fighters in the area, through which the SDF allowed Isil fighters to flee Raqqa before the forces' incursion into the city.

Some Isil fighters who accepted the deal have reportedly fled in the direction of Al-Bukamal and Mayadeen in the Deiz Ezzor governorate. Those cities remain Isil strongholds. Being the last urban bastions of Isis control in the area, the terrorist group will put up a fierce fight when the battle to recapture them begins.

Although Raqqa had administrative centres and courts and bureaus for Isil officials, the organisation's top leadership did not reside in the city or formulate its strategies and policies from there. This means that the group's ability to create and disseminate propaganda and military operations continues to be relatively strong.

What will change for Isil under the new configuration of power distribution in north-eastern Syria are the tactics it will use. With the group losing urban territory, it is moving increasingly in the direction of becoming an insurgency. Asymmetric attacks are likely to increase in frequency in areas that Isil has now lost. Isil will transform and give birth to different offshoots. Foreign fighters who have nowhere to go outside Syria and Iraq are likely to remain attracted to whatever group they can pragmatically join. This is why the rebuilding of Raqqa, and all areas once occupied by Isil in Syria and Iraq is just as crucial as the liberation of sucj areas. If reconstruction of infrastructure and society is not taken seriously, it is very likely that these areas will become breeding grounds for terrorism and insurgency.

This scenario is reminiscent of the evolution of al-Qaeda, where the organisation set up franchises in different locations, each with their own set of priorities. And like al-Qaeda before it, Isil is also likely to step up activating its supporters around the world to engage in opportunistic attacks as a way to assert its presence. This becomes increasingly likely since Isil has often used such opportunistic attacks as a way to compensate for loss of territory in Iraq and Syria.

The Biggest issues after Raqqa's liberation ​

Keeping up the momentum of the fight against Isil:

Secretary of Defense, Michael Fallon, has made it clear that the UK is committed to maintaining the momentum and to keep up the pressure on the terrorists as the fight moves along the Euphrates River Valley towards the border with Iraq. The RAF and Coalition partners will continue to target Daesh in both Syria and Iraq, supporting local forces on the ground to decisively defeat our common enemy.

Dealing with foreign Isil fighters:

Over the weekend, Rory Stewart stated thay  British Isil fighters should be killed in Syria rather than be allowed to return to the UK. He said converts who leave Britain to fight for the terror group are guilty of horrific acts and the only way of dealing with them is to kill them "in almost every case".

Brett McGurk, a top US envoy for the coalition fighting Islamic State (IS), has said his mission is to ensure every foreign Isil fighter in Syria dies in Syria.

Curbing the threat of terrorism at home:

Around half of the estimated 850 Britons believed to have gone to join Isil are now believed to be back in the UK. There are fears more will follow as the terror organisation loses territory in Iraq and Syria.

Humanitarian crisis in Raqqa:

The UK has been at the forefront of efforts to alleviate the humanitarian situation since 2012, working tirelessly with partners on the ground to deliver more than 660,000 lifesaving relief packages including blankets, clothing and hygiene kits in Raqqah alone.

Priti Patel announced on the 22th October 2017 UK efforts to: 

  • clear lethal landmines and explosives, to allow families to return unharmed to their homes, and ensure that humanitarian experts and aid agencies can reach those in desperate need
  • restock hospitals and mobile surgical units in the area with essential medicines and equipment to help restore crippled health facilities
  • provide 145,000 medical consultations, including for those that have been wounded or starved, and psychological support for 1,600 people who have been traumatised by the horrors of war
  • provide immediate relief for innocent people who have been displaced, with 31,000 relief kits including cooking equipment and blankets to keep them warm for winter
  • improve access to clean water for 15,000 people, with jerry cans and water-purifying tablets to prevent the spread of deadly disease and sickness
  • help pregnant women with 1,000 clean delivery kits to ensure safety for mothers and babies during childbirth.

This £10 million package of support is a new allocation from the UK’s response to the Syria crisis

International Reactions 

Russia has stated that Raqqa has been ‘wiped off the face of the earth’ by the US-led coalition, comparing it to images of post-WWII Dresden. Major Igor  Konashenkov said the West now appear to be hurrying to send financial aid to Raqqa as a way of covering up evidence of its crimes (Source – BBC News – reported 23rd October 2017)

  • Syrian activists say between 1,130 and 1,873 civilians were killed and that many of the civilian casualties were the result of the intense US-led air strikes that helped the SDF (Source – BBC News)
  • UN said in June that there had been a “staggering” loss of life in Raqqa. (Source – BBC News)

The future of Syria

Some see the liberation of Raqqa, by non-Regime forces yet again as proof that Assad can never be a partner against terrorism. This means a national political settlement that secures a transition to a government that can protect the rights of all Syrians, unite the country, and end the conflict remains the only solution.


To view a video of CMEC Chairman the Rt Hon Hugo Swire addressing Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, on the issues in Raqqa in the House of Commons click here