By Aishwarya Rai, International News Assistant Editor
On March 27, a group of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters took hold of an airbase occupied by the Islamic State, just west of their stronghold in Raqqa. The Syrian Kurdish and Arab force is backed by the US, who provided helicopters and aid at the scene to airlift hundreds of fighters during the attack.
The Taqba airbase had fallen on March 23, according to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and a monitoring group. The assault then began on March 26. The SDF also intends to take hold of a town nearby Taqba and the Taqba dam. According to BBC, this is an area that the US-led multinational coalition has denied damaging during air strikes. Nonetheless, on Sunday, IS stated that coalition air strikes had locked the dam’s gates, which caused water levels to rise dangerously high, which created the threat of the dam collapsing.
The SDF is a group of 50,000 militias of either Kurdish, Arab, Turkish, or Armenian backgrounds, opposed to the Islamic State. The group was formed in Northern Syria in October 2015, and has since seized 2,300 sq. miles of territory, with the aid of coalition air strikes and special forces personnel. The Kurdish Popular Protection Units militia (YPG) leads the SDF, which has been an issue for Turkey’s government. Turkey is a major US ally that has banned the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and it considers the YPG to be a part of it. In order to maintain civil ties with the Turkish government, the US has only agreed to support the Arab groups in the SDF. Officials had emphasized the exclusion of YPG fighters for the Taqba airlift.
The Taqba airbase is significant because it is the site of some of the jihadists’ worst acts, such as the mass killing of around 200 Syrian soldiers in August 2014. The airbase would also aid the SDF functionally, as Talal Silo, a SDF spokesperson told Reuters news agency, “We do not have an airport that can receive planes. The coalition planes will benefit from the airport.” Nonetheless, the airbase will need some repairs, as its runway has been damaged. The Taqba dam is significant since in addition to its being the largest in Syria, it is also a source for electricity in the region. According to the coalition the IS had been using the dam as a headquarters, prison for high-profile hostages, and a training location, thus making the area a major part of the IS’ functions.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 4th print edition.
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