Macer Gifford, a British volunteer who went to Syria to fight Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), has called on the US-led coalition to provide military, humanitarian, and political support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in liberating Raqqa.
In a video statement posted on Gifford’s Facebook page on Monday night, the former currency trader-turned-soldier asked the international community to maintain its military support to force the terrorist group out of its de facto capital, which it seized in 2014.
SDF forces have now breached the walls of Raqqa’s Old City, the US military reported on Tuesday.
Gifford, a former Conservative Party councilor, also called for humanitarian aid to protect civilians fleeing the battle and for political assistance to foster democratic institutions once the group has been expelled.
In the video, recorded three days earlier, the crack of sniper fire can be heard as Gifford describes the battle unfolding in the city streets.
“Every single night we are doing something, and even during the day we’re calling in airstrikes, shooting back, we’ve got our own snipers who are very, very talented, which are whittling down ISIS’s numbers and making their defeat much more likely.
“It’s going to take a long while because we’ve got to root them out. There’s a lot of snipers as you just heard; there’s a lot of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] as well, and that’s pretty much our biggest challenge. It’s finding, isolating these snipers, pinning them down, calling in airstrikes, avoiding during the night the IEDs and other things that plague the city.”
Gifford, who says he is fighting with a unit of Christian fighters, says air support has been critical to their operations.
“One of the main messages I have for the coalition is to keep up the airstrikes. It’s incredible. I’ve never seen so many airstrikes in the city. Every other seemingly minute, maybe every hour, there is an airstrike at some point in the city, and I think there are more facilitators on the ground… more drones in the sky. So the power projection the YPG [Kurdish militia] and the SDF is able to put over the city is incredibly strong, it’s doing wonders and saved many, many lives.”
Beyond military support, however, Gifford wants to see the international community looking ahead to after the extremists are defeated.
“What we really need is political support as well. Because, as I mentioned before, Raqqa is on its way out, it’s going to finish at some point in the not too distant future and the real battle will be what happens next after the city’s liberated.
“What we really need to do is put together a democratic framework for Raqqa, for this region when it’s liberated that’s going to inspire people, make them feel like they’ve been liberated. So I’d encourage the coalition, Britain, America, France and others, to give the political recognition, the political support to the Federation of Northern Syria, which is secular, democratic, give them the tools they need to win the battles on the ground, to win hearts and minds once the battle is done.”
The US military estimates that up to 100,000 civilians are trapped inside the city. Humanitarian aid that comes hand-in-hand with political support would be “amazing,” Gifford says.
“When I drove in just over a week ago, I saw a lot of refugees leaving the city, tired, they hadn’t eaten in days, scared for their lives. These people are shot at by ISIS,” he said.
“In Manbij last year, I saw there were terrible incidents there involving suicide attacks just on refugees alone, because ISIS wanted to punish them for leaving the city,” Gifford added.
He concludes by directly addressing the rank and file IS forces still inside Raqqa’s Old City, promising they will be humanely treated if they surrender to SDF forces.
“I’d like to say one final message to the Islamic State, and that is there are many fighters amongst you that are not fanatics, you have been pressured into fighting.
“Raqqa is finished. The so-called Islamic State is finished. I would urge all of you who are afraid in the city to turn against the fanatics that are keeping you imprisoned within the city, to fight back, to kill them if necessary, to strip your weapons down, throw the bolts away, take your uniforms off and walk during daylight hours into the hands of the SDF. We’ll feed you, we’ll give you water, and take you away from Raqqa.
“So my message to them is the end of the Islamic State will soon be upon us, it will regress back to its insurgency, to its desert dwelling, pathetic insurgency of the past, and there’s no more glory in fighting. Certainly from what I’ve seen, the Islamic State is roundly beaten.”
The SDF’s advance into the Old City of Raqqa comes just a week after the Iraqi government announced that IS had been defeated in the northern city of Mosul, which the group seized in 2014.
Reports backed by Iran and the Russian Foreign Ministry suggest IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a Russian airstrike in late May of this year, but his death is yet to be verified.
(‘Macer Gifford’ is not the real name of the British volunteer concerned – it is his nom de guerre. There is another individual whose real name is Macer Gifford who has no connection to the individual described in this article.)