The US-supported, Kurds-led Syrian Democratic Forces are claiming a significant advance in their campaign to remove the Islamic State from northern Syria.
The SDF said on Wednesday that it has full control of the town of Tabqa and its adjacent dam, the largest in Syria, after weeks of attacks.
Tabqa is about 40 km (25 miles) along the Euphrates River west of the city of Raqqa, ISIS’s central position in the country.
Backed by US airstrikes, weapons, and special forces, the SDF moved into part of Tabqa Dam in late March. Last week, they claimed much of Taqba city, gradually pushing ISIS into a few northern districts.
SDF spokesman Talal Silo said yesterday that the city had been captured “thanks to the sacrifices of the SDF’s heroes and with the full, unlimited support of the U.S.-led international coalition”.
The US envoy for the anti-ISIS campaign, Brett McGurk, tweeted:
— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) May 10, 2017
Attention now turns to the offensive for Raqqa, held up for months amid political disputes around leadership and the involvement of the Kurdish militia YPG, the key faction in the SDF.
Turkey considers the YPG as part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK, which has battled the Turkish security forces for more than 30 years and is considered a terrorist group by the US. Ankara has hoped that the Turkish-rebel Euphrates Shield Force could take over the leading role in the offensive.
But the US, after months of maneuvering between Ankara and the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) and its YPG militia, appears to be tilting towards the latter. This week the Trump Administration signalled its intentions with formal approval of the arms that have been given to the SDF since its formation in late 2015.
The spokesman for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve assured on Wednesday, “Every single one of these weapons that will be provided to our partner forces will be accounted for and pointed at ISIS.”
But New York Times correspondent C.J. Chivers expressed skepticism:
— C.J. Chivers (@cjchivers) May 10, 2017
Turkey: Obama “Holdovers” Rushed Trump Into Support of YPG
Expressing their anger over confirmation of the US arms supplies to the YPG — but avoiding a direct attack on Donald Trump — “multiple Turkish officials” said Obama Administration “holdovers” in the US Government rushed Trump into signature of the order.
The officials said the Obama-era staff feared that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, visiting Washington next week, could convince Trump not to proceed.
The US President issued the order on Monday just before a high-level Turkish delegation — including the head of the military Gen. Hulusi Akar, intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, and Chief Presidential Adviser Ibrahim Kalın — arrived at the White House.
The Turkish delegation repeatedly told senior US officials that the arming of the YPG would undermine Erdoğan’s first meeting with Trump, “following the Obama administration’s disastrous relations with Ankara”, according to the Turkish sources.
Erdoğan said on Wednesday that the fight against the Islamic State “should not be carried out using other terrorist groups”: “I want to believe that Turkey’s allies will side with us, not with terrorist organizations.”
TOP PHOTO: Syrian Democratic Forces moving into part of Tabqa Dam, late March 2017