Syrians Urged To Leave Raqqa As Attack On The ISIS Stronghold Nears

Coalition forces are dropping leaflets on the city of Raqqa urging civilians to evacuate ahead of a possible military push

One of the leaflets dropped by the coalition forces over Raqqa — Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently
May 20, 2016 at 12:44 PM ET

Signs online and on the ground point to an imminent military push by the U.S.-led coalition and local Syrian Kurdish militia on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa in northeast Syria.

The local advocacy group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently uploaded images showing leaflets purportedly dropped there by coalition forces on Thursday, calling on civilians to evacuate the city. “The time you are waiting so long for has arrived,” the leaflet said. “It’s time to leave Raqqa.”

A YouTube account posting media for the U.S-backed Syrian Kurdish militia (Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF) listed new videos of convoys of Kurdish fighters with tanks and military vehicles “mobilizing on the outskirts of Raqqa, the biggest ISIS stronghold, preparing to liberate it.” In one video uploaded to the account a local Kurdish commander is filmed talking to some 20 fighters, saying: “We are going to invade Raqqa and liberate it from ISIS. The most important thing is to avoid hurting civilians.”

Earlier this week, the Kurdish ARA news service reported that ISIS militants had stepped up security measures and deployed their own back up fighters to Raqqa after getting wind of the news that there was a plan to storm the city. An SDF officer said preparations for the battle for Raqqa are ongoing, and that retaking Raqqa was the first step to eliminating ISIS in Syria. The spokesman also acknowledged that the fight in Raqqa “is going to be difficult.”

At the same time Syrian opposition figures and others online raised concerns that the call to evacuate Raqqa meant that any fight against ISIS militants would result in the city being leveled. In a series of tweets, prominent Syrian opposition figure Bassam Jaara condemned the United States, saying “the call to the citizens of Raqqa to leave means America has declared a war on our people clearly and openly.”

Translation: “Where will the hundreds of thousands told to leave go? Why they don’t bomb the European capitals where ‘the terrorists’ exist?”

Other critics on Facebook said the moves on Raqqa were part of President Barack Obama’s “plan to kill Arabs and Muslims in Syria” and that “they want to free Raqqa from its people, not from ISIS.”