AMMAN: Liwa Thuwwar Raqqa, the only major brigade considered to have serious designs on the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa city, says it still has not received promised US military aid despite a second ammunition delivery to anti-IS forces earlier this month, a spokesman told Syria Direct Tuesday.
“Leaders from Liwa Thuwwar Raqqa met with an American delegation, and we received promises of support but nothing has reached us,” said Abu Muadh a-Raqqawi, who declined to elaborate on when or where the meeting took place.
Liwa Thuwwar Raqqa is a coalition of anti-Assad, anti-Islamic State Arab brigades formed in 2012 that helped expel the Syrian regime from Raqqa city in March 2013. After the Islamic State forced Liwa Thuwwar Raqqa out of the provincial capital in early 2014, the brigade began to carry out military operations against IS from the northern Aleppo countryside and has been fighting them since.
Liwa Thuwwar Raqqa first complained in late October of a lack of American support, when Abu Issa, head of the brigade, told McClatchyDC that “the Americans…don’t even contact us.”
Contrary to that statement, spokesman a-Raqqawi told Syria Direct Wednesday that the United States promised aid at a meeting with Liwa Thuwwar Raqqa after the latter pledged to fight the Islamic State. In exchange, Liwa asked that the Syrian regime not participate in the anti-IS coalition.
American officials have said both ammunition drops to anti-IS brigades, the first in mid-October and the second mid-November, are intended for the “Syrian Arab forces,” a loose term used to describe Arabs fighting alongside Kurds in northern Syria against the Islamic State.
Head of Liwa Thuwwar A-Raqqa, Abu Issa in October.
“We’re providing weapons, or in this case, ammunition, to the Syrian-Arab coalition,” Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve to battle the Islamic State, told a Pentagon press conference on November 4.
“There’s a limit to how far Kurdish forces can push south, because of the ethnic mixes there,” Warren said, according to a transcript of the briefing.
“That’s why we see the Syrian-Arab coalition come into play; this is why we’re providing them with the support that they need,” the colonel said.
Where the support did not go, says Abu Muadh a-Raqqawi, is to Liwa Thuwwar Raqqa.
“We haven’t received anything at all, keeping in mind that we’re the only force that represents Raqqa province,” the spokesman said Tuesday.
The Liwa spokesman’s statement seems to directly contradict an earlier claim to Syria Direct that some military assistance had in fact arrived. “We have received promises surrounding future military aid and we really did begin to receive equipment to exterminate IS in Raqqa city and its countryside,” a-Raqqawi told Syria Direct last month.
A-Raqqawi clarified on Wednesday that “in a previous interview with you I said that the first batch of weapons [had arrived], meaning the weapons that came via airdrop, but after they were dropped it became clear that we were to have no share in those weapons. We never got anything out of that batch.”
The spokesman insists that an agreement was reached with the Americans: “There’s nothing that would prevent the aid from arriving—the agreement happened between two parties [Liwa Thuwwar Raqqa and the Americans] to fight IS, and [we stipulated] that the Syrian regime would not be a party in the battle,” a-Raqqawi said. “We’re still on the frontlines against IS.”
“The meetings with the Americans were not announced publicly,” he added.
The most recent arms drop was driven into Syria from Erbil, an unnamed military official told Fox News on November 15. Like the first airdrop the month before, it is unclear who actually has that aid, consisting of small arms ammunition.
Arab forces lacked the capability to move the 50 tons of ammunition supplied in the first drop, which occurred October 11, with the YPG then called in to help, reported the New York Times at the time.
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook acknowledged at a press conference October 15 that “I don’t have a breakdown of exactly where those — where everything went.”
The lack of weapons has prevented Liwa Thuwwar Raqqa from fighting a battle they were supposed to begin nearly a month ago. Brigade commander Abu Issa announced on October 29 the approach of “zero hour” to capture Raqqa city, and declared the entire province a military zone.
Since then, Liwa Thuwwar Raqqa has not moved south from their positions in and around Tel Abyad. Despite the delay, Raqqans remain convinced that a battle is coming, Hmoud al-Musa, a journalist with the Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently Campaign, told Syria Direct Tuesday.
“Everyone inside the city knows that the liberation of Raqqa is a matter of time,” he said.
“But they think that the battle reaching the city itself, that it’s too early to talk about that.”