Backed forces capture Syrian air base from IS

SDF spokesperson Silo denied that coalition strikes hit the structure of the dam and said the air drop landing last week was conducted to prevent any damage to the main structure by engaging the militants away from the dam.

But the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the IS-held dam was out of order for unknown reasons.

US -backed Syrian Kurdish forces captured a strategically important air base from Islamic State militants in north Syria on Sunday in the first major victory for the group since the USA airlifted the forces behind enemy lines four days ago.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have ratcheted up the pressure on IS in Syria since the US airlifted hundreds of SDF fighters, USA military advisers, and US artillery behind IS lines on March 21. But the organization warned that damage to the Tabqa Dam "could lead to massive scale flooding across Raqqa and as far away as Deir Ezzor" province to the southeast.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias supported by a US-led global coalition - said it had seized the air base on Sunday.

The US has provided substantial air and ground support to the SDF, which is closing in on Raqqa.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are firing on Islamic State militants inside the air base, which they seized from the Syrian government in 2014. The extremist group has controlled Raqqa since 2014, and it's considered to be IS militants' de-facto capital.

On Sunday, IS fighters ordered Raqqa residents to evacuate the city.

"We call for immediate efforts to save people and protect them", the statement of the Turkey-based opposition-run Local Council of Raqqa Province said, urging the global coalition to provide safe passage to civilians and ending bombing of infrastructure in the fight against Islamic State.

Through its propaganda agency, IS issued warnings that the dam "is threatened with collapse at any moment because of American airstrikes and a large rise in water levels".

The two groups rely on local contacts to smuggle information out of IS-held territory.

The director of the Syrian government's General Authority of Euphrates Dam that formerly operated the huge project blamed USA strikes in the past two days for disrupting internal control systems and putting the dam out of service, and warned of growing risks that could lead to flooding and future collapses.

US-backed forces battled the Islamic State group around a key Syrian town Monday, after the capture of an airbase brought them closer to besieging the jihadists in their stronghold Raqa.

A media representative for the USA -led coalition fighting Islamic State said it was looking into the Observatory's assertion. The exiled opposition coalition is taking part in United Nations -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.

Russia's air support has helped Syrian government forces regain the upper hand in swathes of territory across the country.

  • Leroy Wright