SDF takes Tabqah airbase from IS, dam undamaged

Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF fighters on the front line in Tabqah, 27 March 2017, (Photo: SDF Press).

The US-led coalition backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) took over the Tabqah airbase on Sunday cutting off the west and southward roads to the city of Tabqah, 55km to the west of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s (IS) last stronghold in Syria.

IS media channels claimed the Tabqah Dam near the city was under risk of being damaged by coalition airstrikes and thus posed a threat as it would flood villages in the area if destroyed.

However, the Combined Joint Task Force of Operation Inherent Resolve, composed of US military and coalition forces, released a statement on Facebook responding to the claims saying that the dam wasn’t in “imminent danger unless [IS] plan to destroy it.”

“The SDF are in control of a spillway north of the dam that provides water to an irrigation reclamation canal which can be used to alleviate pressure on the dam if need be. If the lake reaches dangerous levels the SDF can relieve the pressure through alternative means.

Tabqah Dam has not been structurally damaged to our knowledge and the Coalition seeks to preserve the integrity of the dam as a vital resource to the people of Syria. The Coalition does not target the dam with strikes and when we strike military targets in the vicinity of the dam we use low yield munitions so as not to cause unnecessary damage to the dam. The SDF has a robust plan in place to care for the dam post liberation from ISIS that will work through the resources of the United Nations and subject matter experts on dam engineering,” the statement read.

The statement was accompanied by photos of an undamaged Tabqah dam.

If the SDF pushing in from the north, where the dam is located, manage to meet with those at the airbase, the eastward and final road connection to Raqqa would be cut off.

The capture of Tabqah Dam is the latest development in the Wrath of Euphrates Operation to take Raqqa from the jihadist group.

According to a statement made by the Kurdish-Arab led SDF on Sunday, 640 square kilometres of land was captured by the SDF while 272 IS members were killed in the third phase of the coalition backed operation.

The SDF has now surrounded Raqqa from three sides with only the south, which is cut by the Euphrates river, open for IS militants to flee.

A leading People’s Protection Units (YPG) commander, Sipan Hemo, recently confirmed that the assault on Raqqa’s central neighbourhoods would begin in early April.