Saturday, April 8, 2017

Syrian rebel forces take one side of Tabqa dam near Raqqa from the Islamic State

(March 26) The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) an alliance of Kurdish militias with some Arabs, reached one side of the dam. This is a top prize in the drive to ultimately take the city of Raqqa from the Islamic State.'

Jihan Ahmed, the SDF spokesperson said that its forces were fighting the Islamic State (IS) at the entrance to the dam. The Tabqa dam is the largest on the Euphrates and stretches 4 km across the river and is one of the few land crossings of the Euphrates remaining after many bridges have been destroyed. The dam is about 40 kilometers or 25 miles west of Raqqa. The Islamic State has used Raqqa for years as the main base for its operations in Syria. Recent coalition airstrikes have inflicted some damage. There have been no casualty reports. The UN warned some time ago of the dangers of the dam being damaged even sabotaged by the Islamic State creating a catastrophe.
The SDF with the help of US special forces and air strikes launched an operation late in 2016 to isolate Raqqa and it is now mostly "surrounded" but in a large pocket of land that backs onto the river. The US coalition air dropped SDF forces onto the south bank of the Euphrates as part of their preparation for an assault on the dam and the nearby town Taqba town and air base. The SDF forces are advancing from the north and Syrian government forces are advancing from the west.
Clashes occurred recently in the town of al-Karam just 18 kilometers or 11 miles east of Raqqa. The SDF is attempting to close in on Raqqa as the third stage of an operation known as "Wrath of the Euphrates". The French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian claimed that the push into Raqqa would begin within days: "France has always said that Raqqa was a major objective, Today, one can say that Raqqa is encircled, that the battle for Raqqa will start in the coming days. It will be a very hard battle, but a battle that is going to be of utmost importance."
The offensive has not been without problems. Earlier an air strike hit a school killing dozens of people who had taken refuge in the school after fleeing fighting in Palmyra. Although several groups blamed coalition air strikes the coalition claimed it had no information that it had struck civilians near Raqqa but said the reports would be investigated.
A report claims that recent fighting has put the dam out of operation creating risky high water levels. A technical source said: "Shelling on the area... that supplies that dam with electricity has put it out of service. The work needed to fix the problem is not possible because there is not sufficient staff available as a result of the intensive shelling in the area of the dam. If the problem is not fixed, it will begin to pose a danger to the dam." However an SDF spokesperson Talal Sello said that there is no imminent danger to the dam noting that there had been no airstrikes on the dam and the air drop of forces was designed to carry out a land operation to avoid damage to the dam. IS has issued a warning that the dam was threatened with collapse at any moment because of US air strikes. The UN humanitarian agency warned that the Euphrates had already risen 10 meters or 33 feet since late January from heavy rainfall and snow. It also warned that damage to the dam could lead to massive flooding at Raqqa and further downstream. More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since conflict began in March of 2011.

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