(CNSNews.com) – Who's going to control the Syrian city of Raqqah when U.S.-backed forces finally expel ISIS?
Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. State Department is working on it:
First of all, we're -- we're supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces in seizing Raqqah. That's a force of about 50,000, of which about 20,000 to 25,000 are Arab, and the balance are Kurdish.
Even as we support their efforts to seize Raqqah, there's an ongoing effort, led by the State Department, to put together a -- a governance body, so that as soon as Raqqah is seized, there is effective local governance.
That governance will local -- will leverage Arab leaders who are from Raqqah. And we'll also work on establishing a security force made up of local personnel, so that there is stabilization efforts that'll follow the seizure of Raqqah.
The U.S. military is helping the Iraqis and the Syrian Democratic Forces destroy the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate that once stretched from Mosul in Iraq to Raqqah in Syria.
The operation to liberate Mosul is nearing an end, but efforts to liberate Raqqa are just beginning.
At a June 14 press briefing, Major General Joseph Martin, the commanding general of all coalition ground forces in Iraq, told reporters that Iraqi troops have liberated hundreds of thousands of civilians in Mosul, “and life is returning to normal in portions of the city.”
“I recently walked the streets of East and West Mosul, and I saw for myself that markets and their businesses are reopening. Civilians are moving around the city and living their lives,” Martin said.
But he said victory in Mosul “is not the end” of the fight to crush ISIS in Iraq.
Once the few remaining ISIS strongholds in Old Mosul are liberated, the campaign to eradicate ISIS in Iraq will continue, Martin said:
“It's tough to tell exactly where we'll go next, but if you look at -- there's other areas in Iraq, urban areas, that have yet to be liberated. And so lots of work to do. The city of Tal Afar comes to mind; the city of Hawijah.
“And then when you move down to the Euphrates River valley, you get cities -- smaller cities but still cities nevertheless of Rihana, Rawah, Al-Qaim and Husaiba along the border of Iraq and Syria. And so those areas will have to be cleared," Martin said.
“Where the Iraqis go will be their choice. And of course, we'll wait for that choice. I can't speculate as to what their next objective will be. But it will probably be another urban environment, continuing to set conditions for defeating Daesh across Iraq. And we'll be there right beside their side, providing them joint and coalition fires each and every day, and our advisorship as well.”
Two weeks ago, at a June 8 news conference, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters that Syrian Democratic Forces began their offensive to defeat ISIS in Raqqah on June 6.
Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, said there are an estimated 2,500 ISIS fighters in Raqqah.
“Our goal is to defeat them, obviously, in Raqqah,” Dillon said. “And to not allow them sanctuary not just in Raqqah, but throughout the rest of Iraq and Syria, so that we do not have to -- so they cannot finance; they do not have the ability to conduct battlefield operations; they don't have the ability to finance, to recruit, and to plan other external attacks.”