The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a conglomeration of predominately Kurdish and Arab fighters from northern Syria, have taken control of Tabqa, removing ISIS militants from the city.
The SDF announced their campaign on 22nd March. Initially crossing the Euphrates and circling the city from its southwestern perimeter, the aim was to take control of strategic areas such as the Tabqa-Raqqa road and the Tabqa airbase, therein cutting off ISIS from Raqqa and areas under its control further west, such as Maskanah. The airbase, in particular, formed strategic importance as it provided coalition forces, supporting the SDF from the air, with the option of using the airbase in the battle against ISIS in the city. The airbase will also be used in the upcoming battles for ISIS’ strongholds of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zour.
The city was fully encircled on 6th April, after SDF fighters made rapid progress on the north and eastern axes of the city, taking control of Suwaydiyat al-Kabirah, Safsafah and Ibad. Fierce fighting has been the currency of interaction between ISIS militants ever since.
Many liberated residents have described their relief at ISIS’ defeat from the city. One man says that “we have lived a tragedy that no one has ever lived [before]”. Another man notes that “people are still confused but the situation is improving”.
ISIS’ defeat in Tabqa represents a further blow to the group’s diminishing aspirations of Khilafah in Iraq and Syria. Yesterday, the SDF announced that they would continue operations to liberate areas of northern Raqqa countryside, in preparation for an assault on the city in the coming weeks.
However, security in Tabqa is still the main priority for the SDF and the city’s residents. This morning, ISIS militants launched counterattacks west and south of the city in the villages of Ayad al-Kabir and al-Mashirfa. Although these failed, resulting in the death of 26 ISIS militants and the destruction of three armoured vehicles, it is a sign that the group still represents a danger to complete stability and security in the area.