Members of Liwa Thuwwar al-Raqqah making a video statement in 2013 (Photo credit: Syria Comment)
According to a 20 December report released by Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, the US is currently attempting to rebuild Liwa Thuwwar al-Raqqa (Raqqa Revolutionaries Brigade) – a former Islamist militia opposed to Damascus.
The report states that the US efforts are aimed at appeasing Turkiye by facilitating the withdrawal of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the border – as Ankara has requested – and replacing it with a revived version of the former opposition group to serve as a buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border.
In order to make this happen, US officers told the group’s leader in a recent meeting to consolidate a formidable force of up to 3,000 fighters, and assured him that Washington would secure their monthly pay-checks.
At the same time, the plan aims to compromise Russian efforts at mediation between the SDF and Turkiye by “pulling the rug out from under” Moscow’s proposition to Ankara. Russia’s proposition calls for a pullback of the Kurdish militia and the deployment of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) along the Syrian-Turkish border.
Essentially, the rebuilding of the Raqqa-based militant group serves the US “desire to prevent any Russian or Syrian governmental attempt to advance towards the strongholds of American influence,” Al-Akhbar said in a newer report released on 22 December.
According to this report, Washington also hopes, despite the tension between them, that the SDF and the Raqqa Brigade could eventually become merged – as they once had been – thereby assigning a form of “legitimacy” to the SDF that could potentially allow Ankara to “open up to it in the future.”
The Liwa Thuwwar al-Raqqa group was formed in 2012 in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, and fought against the forces of the Syrian government alongside Jabhat al-Nusra, the Al-Qaeda affiliated predecessor of the Idlib-based extremist group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). A year later, the city fell to ISIS, and Liwa Thuwwar al-Raqqa continued to engage them in clashes until finally merging with the SDF in 2015 and officially joining the US coalition’s anti-ISIS operation.
In 2018, following a dispute between the two groups, the SDF dismantled Liwa Thuwwar al-Raqqa by taking over its headquarters and arresting its leader.
Washington’s scheme to revive the group comes as the US is continually attempting to strengthen the foothold of its occupation in Syria, particularly in the city of Raqqa, where they have been planning to construct a new military base.
On 15 December, US lawmakers introduced the Countering Assad’s Proliferation Trafficking And Garnering Of Narcotics Act (CAPTAGON Act), which aims to expand Washington’s draconian Caesar Act sanction policy against Damascus, but this time under the pretext of combatting the country’s drug trade.
The US has also recently confirmed that it has no plans of leaving Syria or ending sanctions.