Backed Syria fighters clear ISIL mines from Tabqa town and dam

A spokesman for the USA -led coalition against IS, Col. John Dorrian, said Wednesday that the weapons would be delivered to the Kurds soon.

BEIRUT (AP) – Syrian Kurdish-led forces were clearing mines at the country’s largest dam and the nearby town of Tabqa on Thursday, a day after seizing them from Islamic State militants.

Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally, is adamant that Washington should switch support for the planned assault on the Syrian city of Raqqa from the Kurdish YPG militia to Syrian rebels Turkey has trained and led against Islamic State for the past year.

The U.S. -led coalition fighting the Islamic State group says the Kurdish-led Syrian opposition forces’ capture of a key town and nearby dam in eastern Syria from the militants undermines IS’s ability to defend its de facto capital, Raqqa.

Sources said technicians at the dam had fled as fighting intensified in recent days, and on Thursday a fix team was on standby to enter and assess any damage to the structure after the SDF finished clearing mines laid by ISIL.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has been vocal about the issue and has said he would try to convince Trump that Turkish-backed forces should be used to retake Raqqa from Islamic State when the two meet in mid-May.

The capture of Tabqa sets the stage for an advance on Raqqa, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) to the east. He earlier said that after Tabqa is secured, the Syrian Kurdish-led forces will continue operations to “isolate and seize Raqqa”.

It was an unprecedented bombardment of groups linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is fighting an insurgency against Ankara in Turkey’s southeast.

A military official told VOA the United States will provide Kurdish forces around Raqqa with small arms, machine-guns, ammunition, and armored vehicles to counter improvised explosive devices and construction equipment.

The US-led coalition said a first consignment of weapons was already in place for delivery and could be dispatched to the Kurds “very quickly”.

A US official told Reuters that the United States was looking to boost intelligence cooperation with Turkey to support its fight against the PKK. “Daesh will be fighting back here, that is why we need heavy weapons, including tanks, howitzers, missiles and other hardware”, Yunus said.

Khalil dismissed the label, saying the US would not supply arms to terrorists.

In the statement Thursday, the worldwide coalition said with the capture of Tabqa, the SDF has further isolated Raqqa and “will continue to pursue the military defeat” of IS throughout Syria. The move allowed for the dismantling of land mines around the dam.

The SDF, a multi-ethnic group which includes Kurdish fighters and Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC) fighters, had been battling Islamic State for weeks in Tabqa, about 40 kilometers west of Raqqa, with the help of coalition airstrikes and US special forces advisers.

A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces poses with a machine gun in Tabqa, April 30 2017.

Dorrian said 30,000 residents had been displaced since the fight for Tabqa began on March 21, and that the priority was now to protect those who remained.

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