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US-backed forces enter Daesh-held airport

BEIRUT: US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance on Sunday entered a military airport held by Daesh in northern Syria while the militant group warned the Tabqa dam is at imminent risk of collapse because of airstrikes and increased water levels.
The advance by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Tabqa airbase comes as the alliance prepares an attack on Daesh’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa, seeking to effectively surround the city before launching its assault.
SDF has also captured the town of Karama as it prepares for an assault on the Daesh stronghold of Raqqa that it expects to take place in early April, it said on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Daesh issued messages carried on its social media channels that the dam’s operations had been put out of service and that all flood gates were closed.
The dam, on the Euphrates about 40 km upstream from Daesh’s stronghold of Raqqa, is the largest in Syria. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces has been battling to capture the dam from Daesh since Friday.
The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) said on Monday it is “increasingly concerned” about civilian casualties in the campaign against the extremist group. The exiled opposition coalition is taking part in UN-mediated talks in Geneva.
The SNC said it believes coalition forces were behind an airstrike that killed at least 30 civilians sheltering in a school in the countryside outside Raqqa on March 21. The coalition has said it is investigating.
The US has provided substantial air and ground support to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who are closing in on Raqqa.
The SDF has trapped Raqqa in a shrinking pocket of territory on the northern bank of the Euphrates and has advanced toward it in a multi-pronged offensive over several months.
Dejwar Khabat, a field commander with the SDF, said he expects the assault on Raqqa to begin in early April, affirming a timeline reported by Reuters earlier this month, after the US-backed militia closes the gap on the city on more fronts.
He was answering Reuters questions in a press conference with local reporters in Karama, the last significant town to the east of Raqqa, which lies about 18km away along the Euphrates. Another thrust of the SDF advance has already reached a few kilometers from Raqqa in the northeast.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the SDF had almost completely captured Karama but that clashes between it and Daesh were still going on.
To the west of Raqqa, the SDF is aiming to capture the town of Tabqa on the south bank of the Euphrates, along with a nearby dam and airbase after US helicopters helped the militia’s fighters establish a bridgehead across the river last week.
Khabat said the SDF has besieged the airbase, but the Observatory said it was still several kilometers away. It was captured by Daesh at the height of the group’s expansion in August 2014 and the militants then killed at least 160 captive soldiers, the Observatory has said.
Daesh has retreated with increasing pace over recent months in the face of three rival military campaigns against it in Syria. The SDF, backed by a US-led coalition, has pushed Daesh from the north and northeast.
Syrian rebels fighting under the flag of the Free Syrian Army and backed by Turkey have taken a swathe of territory in the north along the Turkish frontier. And the Syrian army and its allies Russia, Iran and Shiite militias, are advancing east of Aleppo and east of Palmyra.
The Syrian army advance east of Aleppo has reached the Euphrates about 55km northwest of Tabqa, but Khabat said he did not think it had sufficient forces to enter the battle for the town.
He added that the SDF would not allow any other military force to enter Raqqa.

BEIRUT: US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance on Sunday entered a military airport held by Daesh in northern Syria while the militant group warned the Tabqa dam is at imminent risk of collapse because of airstrikes and increased water levels.
The advance by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Tabqa airbase comes as the alliance prepares an attack on Daesh’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa, seeking to effectively surround the city before launching its assault.
SDF has also captured the town of Karama as it prepares for an assault on the Daesh stronghold of Raqqa that it expects to take place in early April, it said on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Daesh issued messages carried on its social media channels that the dam’s operations had been put out of service and that all flood gates were closed.
The dam, on the Euphrates about 40 km upstream from Daesh’s stronghold of Raqqa, is the largest in Syria. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces has been battling to capture the dam from Daesh since Friday.
The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) said on Monday it is “increasingly concerned” about civilian casualties in the campaign against the extremist group. The exiled opposition coalition is taking part in UN-mediated talks in Geneva.
The SNC said it believes coalition forces were behind an airstrike that killed at least 30 civilians sheltering in a school in the countryside outside Raqqa on March 21. The coalition has said it is investigating.
The US has provided substantial air and ground support to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who are closing in on Raqqa.
The SDF has trapped Raqqa in a shrinking pocket of territory on the northern bank of the Euphrates and has advanced toward it in a multi-pronged offensive over several months.
Dejwar Khabat, a field commander with the SDF, said he expects the assault on Raqqa to begin in early April, affirming a timeline reported by Reuters earlier this month, after the US-backed militia closes the gap on the city on more fronts.
He was answering Reuters questions in a press conference with local reporters in Karama, the last significant town to the east of Raqqa, which lies about 18km away along the Euphrates. Another thrust of the SDF advance has already reached a few kilometers from Raqqa in the northeast.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the SDF had almost completely captured Karama but that clashes between it and Daesh were still going on.
To the west of Raqqa, the SDF is aiming to capture the town of Tabqa on the south bank of the Euphrates, along with a nearby dam and airbase after US helicopters helped the militia’s fighters establish a bridgehead across the river last week.
Khabat said the SDF has besieged the airbase, but the Observatory said it was still several kilometers away. It was captured by Daesh at the height of the group’s expansion in August 2014 and the militants then killed at least 160 captive soldiers, the Observatory has said.
Daesh has retreated with increasing pace over recent months in the face of three rival military campaigns against it in Syria. The SDF, backed by a US-led coalition, has pushed Daesh from the north and northeast.
Syrian rebels fighting under the flag of the Free Syrian Army and backed by Turkey have taken a swathe of territory in the north along the Turkish frontier. And the Syrian army and its allies Russia, Iran and Shiite militias, are advancing east of Aleppo and east of Palmyra.
The Syrian army advance east of Aleppo has reached the Euphrates about 55km northwest of Tabqa, but Khabat said he did not think it had sufficient forces to enter the battle for the town.
He added that the SDF would not allow any other military force to enter Raqqa.

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