NPR

Big Changes And Major Dilemmas Loom In Next Phase Of ISIS War In Syria

US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters, regroup in the village of Sabah al-Khayr on the northern outskirts of Deir Ezzor as they advance to encircle the Islamic State (IS) group bastion of Raqa on February 21, 2017. The SDF made a major incursion into the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor as part of their push for Raqa, field commander Dejwar Khabat said. / AFP / DELIL SOULEIMAN / Getty Images

U.S. Marine artillerymen are now in place on Syrian soil, north of the last stronghold of the Islamic State. A force of local Kurdish and Arab fighters is moving south, continuing to isolate the city of Raqqa.

They're in the opening stages of a major military operation that officials say could last into the fall.

What comes next is expected to have huge implications not only for the fate of ISIS but also for the relationship between Turkey and Russia, as well as the geographic outlines of the future Syrian state.

It will be very complicated.

Sometime next month, following a Turkish referendum that could give more power to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the U.S. is expected to take a controversial step: equipping local Arab and Kurdish forces in Syria with small arms, heavy machine guns and other weapons to begin the final battle for Raqqa.

ISIS has been dug in there for years, and has mostly lost its grip on the other major city it controlled — Mosul, in Iraq.

The fight for Raqqa will not only be a difficult military challenge. Its political dimensions

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR3 min read
British Authorities Scramble To Find Stolen Solid Gold Toilet
Titled America, it is a work of art by Italian Maurizio Cattelan that had been installed at England's Blenheim Palace. A 66-year-old man has been taken into custody.
NPR3 min read
'Homesick' Is A Boundary-Expanding Story Of Devotion And Growing Up
Accomplished translator Jennifer Croft's first non-translated work is a hybrid, mixing photography and impressionistic autobiographical writing to tell the story of Croft's artistic coming of age.
NPR7 min read
A Fire Lookout On What's Lost In A Transition To Technology
The number of manned fire lookouts in the U.S. is dwindling, as technology is increasingly used to spot and monitor wildfires. But can technology replace a human watch?