Battle of Raqqa (March 2013)

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Battle of Raqqa
Part of the Syrian Civil War
Battle of Raqqa.svg
Course of the battle, and control in Raqqa as of October 2013

     Syrian Army control

     Opposition control
Date 3–6 March 2013[2]
(3 days)
Location Raqqa, Syria
Result

Major rebel victory

  • Rebels seize Raqqa.[2]
  • Rebels capture two senior government officials in the city.[3]
  • The 17th Division retreats northwards to its headquarters.
Belligerents

Al-Nusra Front[1]
Islamic State of Iraq
Ahrar ash-Sham

Free Syrian Army

Syria Syrian Arab Republic

Commanders and leaders
Unknown top provincial Al-Nusra commander [4]
Unknown top provincial Ahrar al-Sham commander [4]
Brig. Gen. Khaled al-Halabi (Raqqa's state security head)[5]
Maj. Gen. Hassan Jalili  (POW)
(Provincial governor)[5]
Suleiman Suleiman  (POW)
(Provincial Baath party's secretary general)[5]
Units involved
Muntasir Billah Brigade
Liwa Thuwwar al-Raqqa
17th Division
Strength
~7,000 fighters[6] 400 soldiers
Casualties and losses
40–50 killed[4][7][8] 30 killed[4][9][10]
300 captured[11]
More than 100 killed from 4-5 March (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimate)[12]
39 killed in air raids on 6 March.[10]

The Battle of Raqqa was a battle for control of the northern Syrian city of Raqqa during the Syrian Civil War between rebel insurgents and the Syrian Army. Rebel forces launched the offensive in early March 2013, and declared themselves in "near-total control" on 5 March 2013, making it the first provincial capital claimed to come under rebel control in the civil war.[13] The battle, on the opposition side, was primarily led by the Islamist jihadist group Al-Nusra Front.[14]

Background[edit]

Raqqa was not initially a rebel stronghold. The city itself saw several small protests at the beginning of the uprising, but these soon subsided. The anti-Assad elements within the city also remained peaceful until the end of 2012. Furthermore, previous pro-government tribal coalitions and the presence of more than a half million displaced Syrians, mostly from Idlib, Deir ez-Zor and Aleppo, served to strengthen the Syrian government's opinion that Raqqa was relatively safe.[15] Because of this view, President Bashar al-Assad visited the city to pray in one of its mosques for Eid al-Adha in June 2012.[15]

Armed opposition groups began to spread through eastern Syria, leading to violence being perpetrated by both government and anti-government groups. Dozens of people were killed in the Qahtaniya region outside the city in incidents blamed by the government on terrorist groups. Shelling also reached a petrol station in the town of Tell Abyad, with the pro-government Syrian media calling the region a terrorist hub.[15]

By early 2013, the Syrian opposition had secured much of the north of Syria, but had yet to seize control of a major city. The rebels planned an offensive to seize control of Raqqa where government forces were in control, effectively giving the opposition control over a much greater portion of northern Syria.[16][17]

Battle[edit]

Rebel forces, including mostly Islamist brigades, based in the countryside surrounding Raqqa launched a surge into the city between 3 and 5 March, advancing from the north and overrunning army positions at the city's northernmost entrance.[18] They engaged forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad in heavy fighting around key state buildings, eventually driving out the army. Rebels seized control of the main square in the city on 4 March, and symbolically tore down a large golden statue of Syria's former president Hafez al-Assad, late father of the current president.[13]

Although, according to al-Akhbar, the city (which had been surrounded on four sides by checkpoints) did not fall militarily, pointing out that, despite not having a formidable Syrian army deployment, it was not normal that Raqqa fell in hours. The Lebanese newspaper reported that the morning of the attack Syrian forces manning the eastern checkpoint pulled out, handing over the city’s eastern entrance – and the entire eastern district – to the fighters of the Muntasir Billah Brigade and al-Nusra, while officers of the Syrian military police and the Hajana – the border guard – were seen moving their equipment, without any harassment from the opposition fighters, from the center of the city to the headquarters of the 17th division, before the opposition brigades advance.[5]

Rebels also stormed the residence of the provincial governor Hasan Jalali, reportedly capturing him along with the head of the Raqqa Governorate branch of the Baath Party, Suleiman al-Suleiman.[17]

Government forces retreated from the city westwards and eastwards, and also remained 60 km from the city at the provincial airport.[18] The Syrian Air Force carried out airstrikes against rebels in the city after its fall.[19]

On 5 March, footage emerged of both Hasan Jalali and Suleiman al-Suleiman surrounded by jubilant rebel fighters.[3]

Free Syrian Army, Jabhat an-Nusra, Ahrar ash-Sham (part of the Syrian Islamic Front) and the brigade of Huthaya bin al-Yaman were the ones taking the city.

Among those killed in the fighting were also the top al-Nusra commander for Raqqa governorate, as well as the main provincial Ahrar ash-Sham field commander.[4] Raqqa's police chief was also killed. Some residents pleaded with rebels not to enter the city, fearing it would bring retribution from government forces.[3]

The last pockets of loyalist resistance in the city were eliminated on 6 March, when rebels seized several key security buildings where loyalist troops were hiding, prompting the activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights to officially declare that Raqqa was fully under rebel control.[20] The Syrian Air Force conducted 25 air-strikes against the city in an attempt to dislodge the opposition forces. In total, 39 people were killed, including 17 in a strike on a square.[10] At least 10 of those killed were confirmed as rebel fighters.[8]

Aftermath[edit]

Following the rebel capture of Raqqa, the Syrian army sent army reinforcements from Tabqa military airport, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported rebels had intercepted them.[21][22]

Some of the captured government troops were publicly executed by the Islamic factions after the takeover, with their bodies put on display or dragged through the city streets.[23]

On 10 March, further air strikes on the city left another 14 people dead.[24]

On 4 April 2013, it was reported that rebels of the Free Syrian Army besieging the 17th Division base outside Raqqa city were in control of three quarters of the base with the Syrian Army holding the command centre. A Syrian Army source at the base reported that 80 soldiers had been killed and 250 injured in the fighting, and that many injured troops had died of gangrene.[25]

On 20 May, Syria's Raqqa opposition chief was kidnapped[by whom?], according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. "The Observatory condemns in the strongest terms the abduction of opposition lawyer Abdallah al-Khalil, and demands his immediate release," it said.[26]

As of 28 May, air raids and artillery strikes continued against rebel lines on the outskirts of the city, but government forces were still unable to break through the lines.[27]

On 17 August, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) announced a few days before that they would stop participating in the siege of the 17th Division, one of the two last remaining loyalist bases in Raqqa. They wanted to focus on civil administration instead, in building an Islamic state, and so they would withdraw fighters from the most urgent battlefields.[28]

On 25 July 2014, ISIL took control of the 17th Division away from the Syrian Army.

In August 2014, the Battle of Tabqa air base resulted in the loss of the base to Jihadists with significant losses on both sides.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Activists: Syrian regime bombs rebel-held city". 
  2. ^ a b "Rebels look to extend gains from Raqqa | News , Middle East". The Daily Star. 6 April 2013. Retrieved 30 August 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c "Syria crisis: Raqqa governor held by rebels 'as city falls'". BBC News. 5 March 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Monday 4 March 2013". 
  5. ^ a b c d Firas al-Hakkar (8 November 2013). "The Mysterious Fall of Raqqa, Syria's Kandahar". al-Akhbar. Retrieved 27 November 2013. 
  6. ^ "Los rebeldes quieren forzar el colapso del régimen en el este de Siria" (in Spanish). El Mundo. 19 April 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2015. 
  7. ^ "Syria crisis: Warplanes 'bomb Raqqa after rebel gains'". BBC News. 5 March 2013. 
  8. ^ a b "نحو 140 سقطوا امس في حصيلة غير نهائية". 
  9. ^ "نحو 190 سقطوا يوم امس". 
  10. ^ a b c "39 killed in air raids in Syria city of Raqqa as attacks intensify". Reuters. March 6, 2013. 
  11. ^ Stack, Liam. "Syrian Rebels Interview Captured Government Officials". Syria: Thelede.blogs.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2013-03-08. 
  12. ^ Zeina Karam (March 5, 2013). "Syrian jets bomb northern city overrun by rebels". Associated Press. 
  13. ^ a b "Syria rebels capture northern Raqqa city – Middle East". Al Jazeera English. 
  14. ^ Ben Hubbard (10 March 2013). "Activists: Syrian regime bombs rebel-held city". Associated Press. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  15. ^ a b c "Syria: Raqqa Lies in Ruins". Al-Monitor. 6 March 2013. 
  16. ^ "Syria rebels capture northern Raqqa city". Al Jazeera English. 5 March 2013. 
  17. ^ a b Adnan, Duraid; Gladstone, Rick (4 March 2013). "Syrian Soldiers Killed in Iraq, as War Grows". New York Times. 
  18. ^ a b Yacoub, Khaled. "Syria opposition says captures eastern city of Raqqa". Reuters. 
  19. ^ "Syria's rebels: We have captured Raqqa". The Daily Star. 
  20. ^ "Syrian activists say rebels seize security buildings in Raqqa, declare it 1st 'liberated' city". Fox News. 6 March 2013. 
  21. ^ "U.N. agency: Syrian refugee figure hits 1 million". USA Today. 6 March 2013. 
  22. ^ "Syrian Rebels Capture Raqqa Governor, Reports Say". International Business Times. 5 March 2013. 
  23. ^ "Newser - Headline News Summaries, World News, and Breaking News". 
  24. ^ "Syria refugee numbers may triple this year - UN". BBC News. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  25. ^ Al Arabiya, Syrian regime troops appeal for immediate aid in Al-Raqqa, 4 April 2013.
  26. ^ "Syria's Raqa opposition chief kidnapped, NGO says". 20 May 2013. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  27. ^ "Syrian rebels divided in fight against Assad". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  28. ^ "The Southern Front, Part II". NOW. 17 August 2013. Retrieved 17 August 2013. 

Coordinates: 35°57′00″N 39°01′00″E / 35.9500°N 39.0167°E / 35.9500; 39.0167