While US officials have for months been presenting the invasion of Raqqa as the end-all, be-all battle against ISIS, they’ve also been preparing the public for the idea of attacking the “next ISIS capital,” and so on. Secretary of Defense James Mattis was even more direct, predicting that the situation would be even more complex after the fall of Raqqa.
“You have to play this thing very carefully,” Mattis insisted, saying it would become harder and harder to keep the various factions fighting against ISIS from getting into “incidents” against one another, while talking of continued support for the Kurdish YPG.
The “incidents” in question have mostly been US warplanes attacking Shi’ite militias, and shooting down the occasional warplane or drone aligned with the Syrian government. Though the US has claimed they “welcome” Syrian offensives against ISIS, they’ve continued to attack them every time they get close.
Turkey is also eager to move against ISIS, but has been so heavily involved in fighting the YPG as well that it’s going to be difficult for them to get into the area without completely derailing the US-backed Kurdish offensive and starting a whole separate war.
This has been a recurring problem throughout the Syria war, with conflicts quickly getting shifted into different conflicts as territory changes hands. Mattis’ comments reflect the increased certainty that the US is going to be smack in the middle of this next round of conflicts.