Backed Syria fighters clear ISIL mines from Tabqa town and dam

A top Syrian Kurdish official said Wednesday, May 10, 2017, that the US decision to arm Kurdish fighters with heavier weapons will help legitimize the force, which is denounced as a terrorist organization by Turkey.

The battle for the recapture of Tabqah began almost two months ago when American helicopters inserted hundreds of Syrian fighters into the city, along with a handful of American special operations forces.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday he was confident the United States would be able to resolve tensions with Turkey over the US decision to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria.

Tabqa had served as a base for IS's foreign fighters and for planning operations in other countries since the militants lost other territories in northern Syria.

The entire Turkish leadership establishment has rebuked United States decision to supply arms to Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) fighting Daech in Syria with help of USA air power.

It was not immediately clear if the leaders discussed President Donald Trump's decision this week to arm the Kurdish YPG, who are fighting the Islamic State group in Syria.

The US-backed force fighting ISIL in northern Syria began clearing mines at the country's largest dam and in the nearby town of Tabqa on Thursday, a day after seizing them from the extremist group.

Erdogan has shown no signs of backing away from his demand that the USA break ties with the YPG, which is viewed in Turkey as linked to the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the fight against terrorism "should not be led with another terror organization" - a reference to the Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the YPG, which Turkey considers an extension of the decades-long Kurdish insurgency raging in its southeast.

"Our forces have seized control of both the dam and the city of Tabqa", SDF spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

Turkey has said it is keen to join the battle to recapture Raqa but on condition the offensive does not include Syrian Kurdish fighters.

The battle for Tabqa began after USA forces helped SDF fighters conduct an airborne landing on the southern bank of the Euphrates in late March, allowing them to gain control of an important nearby airbase. "We don't believe America would choose a terror group over our strategic relations", he told reporters. Unnerved by the Kurdish advances along the border, Turkey sent troops into Syria past year to help allied Syrian forces battle IS and block the SDF.

The warning was delivered to senior USA national security officials in closed-door meetings this week after the Trump administration expressed its intent to arm the Kurds following months of deliberations, the Turkish officials said.

"We've got a certain amount of supply in the country already that was used to equip the Syrian Arab Coalition and some of that may be distributed very quickly", Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the USA -led campaign against ISIS, told Pentagon reporters.

The statement said that in the final days of the battle, around 70 IS fighters withdrew from the town, leaving heavy weapons behind them. The move allowed for the dismantling of land mines around the dam.

The news about the USA plan to arm Syrian Kurds comes, as the Trump administration mulls sending as many as 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan, a military official told NBC News, and as the White House makes moves it believe will help American forces "start winning" again in the region.

  • Leroy Wright