Coalition forces have liberated about 50 villages from ISIS in northern Syria, beginning the isolation of the group’s stronghold in Raqqa, Syria. The Turkish-led forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces have “done quite a bit to isolate Raqqa” and “increase pressure on the enemy,” even though the concerted effort to retake the city hasn’t begun, Col. John Dorrian, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said at a briefing Thursday. The plan to retake Raqqa involves a two-stage isolation and assault approach. While ISIS “still has freedom of movement into and out of Raqqa,” Dorrian said, coalition forces have conducted more than 100 “strikes on their favored supply and infiltration routes,” to limit the group’s ability to move near the city. Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve Commander Army Lt. Gen Stephen Townsend has said the SDF, a large component of which is the Kurdish YPG—a group at odds with Turkey, is the only capable force to begin operations around Raqqa in the near term. On Monday, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said negotiations with Turkey about the Raqqa operation are ongoing. On Thursday, Dorrian said the coalition intends to train a “significant numbers of Arab forces” that are already in the area to participate in the assault on Raqqa from the south. Dorrian said the operation would begin “at a time of our partners’ choosing.”
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.