ISIL suffers ‘biggest setback’ as Kurds capture Syria border town
AKCAKALE // Kurdish fighters seized control of a key border town from ISIL on Tuesday, cutting off a major supply line in the biggest setback yet for the militants in Syria.
From across the frontier in Turkey, the Kurds and allied Syrian rebels could be seen raising their banners in place of the black ISIL flag and taking up positions at the Tal Abyad border post.
The capture of Tal Abyad – used by ISIL as a gateway from Turkey to the city of Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital – is “the biggest setback to ISIL since it announced its caliphate one year ago,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
Aymenn Al Tamimi, an expert at the Middle East Forum research group, agreed, describing Tal Abyad’s fall to the Kurds as “the most significant loss for ISIL in Syria yet”.
Tal Abyad was a key entry point for foreign fighters and supplies into ISIL-held territory in Syria and for exports of black market oil from extremist-held fields in eastern Syria.
Kurdish YPG forces and their Syrian rebel allies launched a two-pronged attack on the frontier town on June 11, backed by air strikes by the US-led coalition fighting ISIL in Syria and Iraq.
The anti-ISIL forces encircled the town from the south-west and south-east before capturing the border crossing just north of it on Monday.
By early Tuesday, these forces had seized full control of Tal Abyad, the UK-based Observatory and Kurdish sources said.
“ISIL withdrew without much fight yesterday ... It was an easy win,” said Ahmed Seyxo, a spokesman for the YPG-linked Democratic Union Party.
A spokesman for the US-led coalition praised its cooperation with Kurdish forces, noting that five strikes had been carried out near Tal Abyad on Monday.
“Kurdish successes, enabled by coalition air strikes, are exposing Daesh military capabilities and terrorists for subsequent removal from the battlefield,” said Colonel Wayne Marotto.
The battle for Tal Abyad sent thousands of terrified residents fleeing into Turkey, with the UN refugee agency saying on Tuesday that some 23,000 people had sought refuge between June 3 and 15.
YPG fighters and rebel units were combing through Tal Abyad on Tuesday to clear mines and booby-trapped cars left behind by ISIL fighters, before allowing civilians to return.
With the route from Tal Abyad to Raqqa cut, the extremist group will have to rely on border crossings much further west in neighbouring Aleppo province, adding several hundred kilometres to their supply lines, Mr Abdel Rahman said.
Also on Tuesday, the Observatory said that more than 30 people had been killed in the most lethal rebel bombardment of the northwestern city of Aleppo since Syria’s conflict began four years ago.
While large civilian death tolls are frequently reported as a result of aerial bombardment by the Syrian army of rebel-held parts of the city, lethal rebel shelling of government-controlled areas is more unusual.
The Observatory said 34 people were killed n the attack, including 12 children, while about 190 were wounded. State media had said on Monday that at least 23 people were killed, adding that the attack targeted a mosque where children were taking religious lessons as well as other neighbourhoods.
* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by Reuters