Kurds capture key IS-held border town in Syria
Kurdish fighters took full control of the border town of Tal Abyad on Tuesday, dealing a major blow to the Islamic State group’s ability to wage war in Syria by cutting off a vital supply line to its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa.
A senior Kurdish commander, Haqi Kobane, told The Associated Press that Kurdish units known as the YPG that he leads, along with their allies from the Free Syrian Army, were starting to clear booby traps and mines in the town along the border with Turkey. The extremists had been in control of it for more than a year.
“Daesh has been broken at the hands of the YPG ... It is a victory for all Syrians,” he said by telephone from northern Syria, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
The Kurdish advance has displaced some 23,000 people who fled to Turkey to escape the fighting, according to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, in Turkey. Around 70 percent are women and children.
An Associated Press team on the Turkish side of the Akcakale border crossing said a large black and white Islamic State group flag was taken down from a pole in Tal Abyad and replaced with a yellow, triangular YPG flag Tuesday.
The border was calm, in sharp contrast to previous days when thousands of Syrians poured into the border crossing, some punching a hole in the fence to break into Turkey. On Tuesday, a few civilians were seen walking around, along with some people on the Turkish side apparently waiting to go back into Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also confirmed Tuesday that the YPG seized the town with the Free Syrian Army.
The takeover of Tal Abyad marks the biggest setback yet to the Islamic State group, which lost a key supply line for its nearby self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa. It deprives the group of a direct route for bringing in foreign militants and supplies, and links the Kurds’ two fronts, putting even more pressure on Raqqa.
The U.S. provided crucial air cover for the Kurds in their advance, launching concentrated airstrikes that targeted the militants inside and along supply routes.
The Islamic State defeat in Tal Abyad is a stunning reversal of fortunes for the group, which only last month captured the provincial capital of Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar province and the historic town of Palmyra in central Syria.