Tabqa: US-backed fighters cornered the Islamic State group in a last part of Tabqa on Monday, after tearing down a huge jihadist flag that had fluttered over the northern Syrian city.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, were in control of all but a fifth of Tabqa as of early today, a monitor said.
The city sits on a strategic supply route about 55 kilometres (35 miles) west of IS’s main Syrian stronghold Raqa and served as a key IS command base.
The SDF broke into Tabqa from the south a week ago and have steadily advanced north, squeezing IS in three contiguous neighbourhoods on the bank of the Euphrates River.
At dawn today, IS fighters withdrew from the western-most district towards the other two neighbourhoods, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
“The SDF now controls more than 80 percent of Tabqa,” Abdel Rahman said, with IS only holding the two northern neighbourhoods of Hurriyah and Wahdah.
Clashes and bombing raids by the US-led coalition rocked the city today, the Observatory said.
In the aptly named Flag Roundabout in Tabqa’s west, an AFP correspondent yesterday saw an SDF fighter climb a ladder propped on a huge flagpole.
He triumphantly pulled down an enormous black IS flag, dropping it to the rubble-littered street as fellow fighters cheered and took pictures.
“We’ve brought down Daesh’s flag and we’ll hang our own – the flag of the Syrian Democratic Forces,” SDF fighter Zaghros Kobane told AFP, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
Other IS propaganda could still be seen around the city, including a billboard of a balaclava-wearing jihadist with three warplanes behind him.
“We will be victorious despite the global coalition,” the billboard read.
The city is home to an estimated 85,000 people, including IS fighters from other areas, and is also adjacent to the strategic Tabqa dam, which remains under IS control.
To circumvent the dam, SDF fighters have been using a makeshift ferry to run supplies across Lake Assad, an enormous reservoir created by the barrier.
The SDF said their hard-fought advance had seen jihadists surrendering in large numbers.
“Tabqa is the toughest battle we’ve ever waged,” said SDF commander Jako Zerkeh, nicknamed “The Wolf”.
Zerkeh said the SDF had used new tactics – including the waterway supply line and an airlift behind enemy lines in late March – to kickstart the offensive.
“These were a huge surprise to them (IS) and shattered their morale… Dozens of Daesh fighters have surrendered.
There were more surrenders here than any other town,” he told
The AFP correspondent in Tabqa yesterday saw SDF fighters guarding a group of blindfolded, bearded men that a security official said were suspected IS fighters.
They were waiting to transport them across Lake Assad and into SDF-controlled territory on the northern bank of the reservoir.