Syrian fighters wrest most of Tabqa from ISIL control
BEIRUT // US-backed fighters forces captured more territory from ISIL in the northern Syrian town of Tabqa on Monday, pushing the extremists into northern neighbourhoods close to one of the country’s largest dams.
“Daesh is retreating from most of Tabqa’s neighbourhoods,” said Brig Gen Hussam Al Awwak, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). “Daesh fighters are almost finished in Taqba.”
The town is an important stronghold for the militants, located about 40 kilometres south-east of their de facto capital, Raqqa, and next to the ISIL-held Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River.
The SDF is the most effective ground force battling ISIL in Syria and will most likely lead the offensive to capture Raqqa in the near future.
The Kurdish-led group said on Monday that its fighters had captured three more neighborhoods in Tabqa, where they have been advancing since mid-April.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIL fighters withdrew from the neighbourhood known as Thawra City, and Monday’s fighting was concentrated in the only two remaining ISIL-held neighborhoods, near the dam.
The Observatory said SDF fighters now control some 80 per cent of Tabqa. It said 35 ISIL members have been killed there since Sunday.
A US airlift of artillery and special forces advisers that placed SDF fighters behind ISIL lines in March was a turning point in the Tabqa offensive.
The SDF is made up of several Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen and Christian groups that have captured wide areas of northern Syria from ISIL over the past year under the cover of US-led coalition air strikes. The largest and most powerful groups in the coalition are the main Kurdish militias known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, and the Women’s Protection Units, or YPJ.
Nato member Turkey carried out strikes against the YPG last week, killing at least 20 fighters. Ankara views the group as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency in south-eastern Turkey and has threatened further military action.
The spiralling tensions led the US to deploy troops along the Syrian-Turkish border as a way of preventing further violence between the two allies.
* Associated Press
Updated: May 1, 2017 04:00 AM