U.S.-backed forces cap­ture Syr­ian air base from ISIS

Austin American-Statesman - - SAN MARCOS SECURITY BREACH - By Philip Issa

U.S.-backed Syr­ian Kur­dish forces cap­tured a strate­gi­cally im­por­tant air base from Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in north Syria on Sun­day in the first ma­jor vic­tory for the group since the U.S. air­lifted the forces be­hind en­emy lines four days ago.

The Kur­dish-led Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces an­nounced they had cap­tured the Tabqa air base, 28 miles west of Raqqa, the Is­lamic State group’s de facto cap­i­tal in Syria.

The U.S., which has pro­vided sub­stan­tial air and ground sup­port to the SDF, fer­ried hun­dreds of SDF forces, as well as U.S. mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers and U.S. ar­tillery, be­hind ISIS lines ear­lier this week.

The air­lift was a ma­jor de­vel­op­ment to the SDF’s multi-front cam­paign to bear down on Raqqa, as U.S.backed Iraqi forces si­mul­ta­ne­ously press their as­sault to seize Mo­sul from the mil­i­tants, in neigh­bor­ing Iraq. SDF forces are within 6 miles of Raqqa from the north.

Tabqa air base was cap­tured by ISIS mil­i­tants from the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment in Au­gust 2014. Shortly af­ter­ward, the group an­nounced it had killed about 200 gov­ern­ment sol­diers at the base, in a mass killing recorded and dis­trib­uted on video over so­cial me­dia.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights mon­i­tor­ing group also re­ported the SDF ad­vance.

Mean­while there were con­flict­ing re­ports over whether civil­ians had be­gun evac­u­at­ing Raqqa due to con­cerns over the sta­bil­ity of the nearby Tabqa Dam.

The mil­i­tants said U.S.led coali­tion airstrikes had locked up the dam’s gates, caus­ing the wa­ter level be­hind it to rise. The ac­tivist group Raqqa is Be­ing Slaugh­tered Silently re­ported that ISIS had or­dered Raqqa res­i­dents to evac­u­ate, though with­out their fur­ni­ture. Tabqa Dam is 25 miles up­stream of Raqqa on the Euphrates River.

U.S.-led coali­tion forces said the dam was struc­turally sound.

U.S.-backed Syr­ian Kur­dish forces were in con­trol of a spill­way north of the dam “which can be used to al­le­vi­ate pres­sure on the dam if need be,” the coali­tion said.

The coali­tion says the dam has not been struc­turally dam­aged, to its knowl­edge, and says it has not tar­geted the dam.

The Ob­ser­va­tory said there were no evac­u­a­tions hap­pen­ing from Raqqa,.

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