BEIRUT (Reuters) - U.S.-allied militias in northern Syria announced on Tuesday the formation of a civilian council to govern Raqqa after their planned capture of the city from Islamic State militants.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which include a large contingent from the powerful Kurdish YPG militia, has advanced towards Raqqa with the help of air strikes and special forces from the U.S.-led coalition.
The SDF - made up of both Kurds and Arabs waging a military campaign against Islamic State - said local officials had been setting up the council for six months.
Reuters reported last month that the political wing of the SDF was helping to install a civilian council to run the eastern Syrian city, Islamic State’s base of operations in Syria.
A preparatory committee met “with the people and important tribal figures of Raqqa city to find out their opinions on how to govern it”, the SDF said in a statement.
Spokesman Talal Selo said the SDF would “provide all the support” and had already turned over some towns around Raqqa city to the council after driving out Islamic State militants.
The extent of Kurdish control in Raqqa’s future is sensitive both for residents and for Ankara, which has fought a three-decade Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey and fears growing YPG ascendancy just over the border in northern Syria.
The United States says a final decision has yet to be made on how and when Raqqa will be captured. But the SDF is pressing its assault near the city to isolate and ultimately take Raqqa while plans for civilian rule take shape.
The establishment of a local council allied to the SDF in Raqqa could expand a sphere of Kurdish influence that has grown in northern Syria during the six-year, multi-sided conflict. It would mirror governing arrangements put in place in the Manbij area after the SDF repelled Islamic State.
Reporting by Ellen Francis; editing by Mark Heinrich