Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) proclaim victory following an intense six-day battle against Islamic State (ISIS) fighters for control over the Tabqa military airbase along the southern banks of the Euphrates River which they have now liberated.
The base fell to ISIS in August 2014 after the militants launched a major offensive in the region. The base, at the time still held by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) was subject to a brutal 18-day siege that saw heavy losses to both sides. By August 28, the SAA retreated and destroyed all weapons, buildings and facilities that could have been used my ISIS militants by doing so weakening their defensive capabilities. For the soldiers who were slow to escape about 160 were captured and executed by the militants.
The fighting for the liberation of the military base was tough, with ISIS using heavy weaponry and explosives against the SDF fighters. ISIS militants are now encircled on all flanks by SDF fighters which are slowly moving ready to “sweep and liberate the city of Tabqa”. Access to the banks of the Euphrates River and Tabqa Dam is all ISIS now have to use to their advantage but with dwindling military supplies and now with no access to supply routes their survival looks doubtful.
The successful capture of this base not only shuts the only corridor ISIS had to their main stronghold in Raqqa, which is 59km east of Tabqa, but also boosts the morale in the fight against ISIS militants. SDF fighters have now set up headquarters at the airport to enhance their strategic positioning for the liberation of the city, with their sights on capturing Tabqa dam next.
The liberation of Tabqa City from ISIS represents an entirely new challenge for the SDF whose only prior urban combat experience comes from Manbij. Unlike Manbij, Tabqa is an Arab-majority city where ISIS has been heavily entrenched and has, so far, put up fierce resistance. With the challenges of Raqqa City still ahead, the SDF fighters – consisting of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Armenian, Chechen, Circassian and Assyrian denominations – will need to ensure that they learn the right lessons from Tabqa for the battles ahead.