U.S.-backed militias oust IS from Syria’s Tabqa old cit


U.S.-backed militias said on Monday they had pushed Islamic State fighters out of the old quarters of Tabqa, a strategically vital town controlling Syria’s largest dam, hemming the militants into the remaining modern district along the shore.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance made up of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighting groups, are fighting a multi-phased campaign to drive Islamic State from its stronghold of Raqqa, 40km (25 miles) downstream and east of Tabqa.

The SDF will wait to assault Raqqa until it seizes Tabqa, its military officials have previously said, but it had made slow progress since besieging the town in early April.

This changed on Thursday when the SDF began to advance north into the old city.

On Monday the SDF said in an online statement it had taken the last three neighbourhoods of the old city and an adjoining industrial district.

SDF forces were now fighting Islamic State in the three modern quarters of the town which lie along the Tabqa reservoir, SDF spokesman Talal Silo said.

Islamic State still control the dam.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said on Monday the SDF now controls about 80 percent of Tabqa.

In recent weeks the SDF has also squeezed Islamic State’s pocket of territory around Raqqa, which the jihadist group has used as a base to plot attacks and manage much of its self-declared caliphate since seizing the city in 2014.

Tabqa was isolated from Raqqa in late March after the United States helped the SDF carry out an airborne landing on the southern bank of the Euphrates, allowing it to capture the areas around the town, including an important airbase, and cut the road.

Islamic State still holds several Tabqa districts along the southern bank of Lake Assad and the southern section of the Euphrates dam, including its operations facilities and a hydro-electric power plant.

Raqqa now lies in an Islamic State enclave on the northern bank of the Euphrates that measures about 50km at its widest point on an east-west axis and 20km on its longest north-south axis, but with SDF salients stretching almost to the city.

Islamic State’s only means of crossing to its main territory on the south bank of the Euphrates is by boat after aerial bombing put the region’s bridges out of service.

The jihadist group still controls large swathes of Syria’s Euphrates basin and its vast eastern deserts near the border with Iraq, but it has lost large tracts of its territory over the past year and many of its leaders have been killed.