SDF fighters on a section of Tabqa Dam. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are near to liberating Tabqa Dam and town. After ousting ISIS from the Tabqa area west of Raqqa and further isolating the city to the east, the SDF will then move into Raqqa city, the spokesperson for the US-led anti-ISIS coalition confirmed.
"Our coordination with the Syrian Democratic Forces is outstanding. They continue to make progress to the west of Raqqa near Tabqa Dam. They are very close to liberating these areas — and they’re isolating Tabqa,” Col. John Dorrian told Rudaw TV on Monday.
“Once this area has been completely freed from Daesh control, then we'll also continue to work with them towards the eastern side of Raqqa to isolate the city further. Then at a time of our and our partner's choosing, they'll move in and they'll liberate that city from ISIS,” he said. Daesh is an Arabic acronym for the extremist group.
The SDF are fighting ISIS south of Tabqa city, the force reported on Monday, and violent confrontations continue on multiple fronts.
The Kurdish-led coalition that includes many local Arab brigades progressed towards Saffsaffa village, 3 kilometres east of the city, the Raqqa campaign stated on Monday.
ISIS has carried out a series of attacks on the SDF in the Tabqa area seeking to “distract” the forces, the monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Sunday.
As the offensive on the urban centre of Raqqa nears, the US has increased its visible support of the SDF. They have provided more arms and military equipment to the Syrian Arab Coalition, a vetted faction within the SDF, and US personnel have been vocal in their praise of the force.
In a recent visit to northern Syria by a senior advisor to the US’ top soldier, Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell observed the SDF in action and in training with US forces and said that everywhere he went “our forces had absolute confidence in the SDF.”
Troxell was in northern Syria last week on behalf of Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and top military advisor to US President Donald Trump.
Dorrian echoed Troxell’s confidence in the SDF. He noted that, as in Mosul, the expectation is that the fight for Raqqa will be a tough one as ISIS has had more than two years to build up their defenses in the city and are “deeply entrenched there.”
"But our partnered forces are making great progress,” in dislodging ISIS from areas around the city, he explained. “We will continue to support them in these operations with our air and artillery strikes. We've brought our artillery into Syria in order to help support the advance of our partnered forces.”
The US deployed a Marine force to northern Raqqa in early March. The Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines ground force of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit was deployed to the country where they will establish an outpost and man artillery, including M777 Howitzers, reports stated at the time.
After his visit with the SDF, Troxell told Pentagon media that the Marines had carried out 1,182 fire missions in the little over a month they had been deployed in northern Syria.
The Americans’ continued support for the SDF and reliance on that force to retake Raqqa will likely be discussed when Turkey’s Defense Minister Fikri Isik visits his US counterpart James Mattis in Washington on Thursday.
“We will meet on matters related to Manbij, Raqqa, and Syria,” Isik told state-run Anadolu Agency.
Turkey has repeatedly condemned US support for the SDF and the Kurdish YPG in northern Syria as Ankara believes the YPG has ties to the PKK, a named terrorist organization. Turkey has proposed working with the US to retake Raqqa and relying on the Free Syrian Army for the offensive.
The US, however, appears to be committed to its alliance with the SDF, their partners on the ground.