With a newly formed Syrian Arab Army (SAA) salient thrusting into western Raqqa, the Islamic State now faces a serious threat to its capital, Raqqa city.
However, the more immediate objective seems to be the capture of Tabqa Airbase or a push northwards to the Euphrates River; the latter move would have all ISIS areas in the Aleppo governorate cut off from the Islamic State mainland.
Another possible scenario – although highly unlikely – is a major push through Raqqa to Deir Ezzor, an isolated government enclave in eastern Syria.
In the past week, about 100 ISIS fighters have been killed in western Raqqa while government forces have advanced 45 kilometers along the Ithriya-Raqqa road. With the Islamic State capital under increasing pressure, ISIS commanders are forced to prioritize their scarce manpower between the Manbij frontline and the western Raqqa frontline as it has become virtually impossible to contain both offensives at once.
The SAA is competing with the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to capture Raqqa from the Islamic State although the SDF seems to have refocused its military strength on capturing Manbij city. Long-term, the capture of Manbij will enable the SDF to build a corridor and eventually connect with the Kurdish enclave at Efrin, a region in northwestern Aleppo. The U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces have seized approximately 500 square kilometers of ISIS-held territory in the Manbij plains (eastern Aleppo) in the past week alone.