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Diplomats Criticize Obama as Campaign for Raqqa Intensifies

Eliana Amundson
Syrian Democratic Forces in southern Hasakah in 2015. (Photo: Kurdish Daily News)

Diplomats Criticize Obama Policy on Syria

Fifty-one State Department diplomats submitted a memo, released Thursday, calling for a more aggressive U.S. military strategy in Syria and recommending strikes against the government of Bashar al-Asad. The signatories characterized U.S. policy towards the conflict as underwhelming in the face of widespread violence and destruction.

Proposing a radical change in the Obama administration’s policy on Syria, the diplomats advocated utilizing “standoff” weaponry to strike Damascus, preventing a need to deploy U.S. ground troops. In the face of continued ceasefire and human rights violations, such direct military action would be the most effective way to bring Asad to the negotiating table to end the conflict, they contend.

The document was signed by mainly mid-level officers and officials with close ties to the region, including a Syrian desk officer in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and a former deputy to the American Ambassador in Damascus. The memo was filed through the “dissent channel,” a consequence-free system for employees to express their policy frustrations to the Secretary of State and other senior officials.

While traveling abroad, Secretary of State John Kerry responded to the memo saying it was an “important statement” that warranted further discussion.

Military Campaign for Raqqa

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the launch of a campaign focused on freeing northern Raqqathe Syrian city situated about 50 miles south of the Turkish border and Islamic State’s de facto capital. The SDF is an umbrella alliance, with U.S. backing, comprised primarily of Kurdish YPG militia (People’s Protection Unit) along with other Kurdish and Arab opposition forces.

The move follows the visit to Northern Syria in May by U.S. Central Command Chief, GEN Joseph Votel, USA, and the subsequent American decision to send U.S. Special Forces operatives to organize and train rebel fighters.

U.S. officials have said the task of conquering the whole city of Raqqa is a job too big for the SDF to undertake on its own. A Kurdish YPG commander noted that freeing the northern section is a necessary first step towards reclaiming the city, and could serve as a launching point for a larger scale attack on the ISIS dominated area.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the SDF, with the help of Russian air support, made its first advance in the operation on June 7th when it liberated the Euphrates river town of Tabqa. The strategic city, about 24 miles upstream of Raqqa, holds the country’s largest energy producing dam, a large man-made lake, and neighbors a key highway connecting Raqqa to the Aleppo region.