A US-backed alliance of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters yesterday advanced against Islamist insurgents in the north of the country, capturing at least one village in Aleppo province, said a spokesman and a monitoring group.
Fighters from the Democratic Forces of Syria seized the village of Tanab near the town of Azaz after heavy clashes with the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and the powerful Ahrar al Sham, spokesman Talal Selo told Reuters. “We liberated Tanab,” he said.
Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Democratic Forces of Syria had also captured the village of Tat Mrash. Selo said he could not yet confirm its capture.
It came just days after the alliance seized a dam from Islamic State (IS) further east, cutting one of its main supply routes across the Euphrates.
Since the US-backed alliance was formed last October, its fighters have opened several major offensives against IS with the ultimate goal of capturing Raqqa. The alliance has separately been fighting in recent weeks against Nusra Front, Ahrar al Sham, and other insurgents in northern Aleppo province.
The Democratic Forces of Syria includes the Kurdish YPG militia, which has been the most effective partner on the ground for US-led air strikes.
Kurdish gains around Azaz, which is near the Turkish border, are also likely to increase concern in Turkey about growing Kurdish sway near the frontier. Ankara is fighting an insurgency against Kurdish PKK fighters in its southeast.
Washington’s strategy in Syria shifted in 2015 from trying to train thousands of fighters outside the country to supplying groups headed by US-vetted commanders.
The US military estimates the Democratic Forces of Syria has captured around 1,000 sq km of terrain in the past six weeks or so, bolstered by coalition air strikes.
Meanwhile, terrified families waved white flags as they emerged from homes reduced to rubble in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, where government troops were still battling IS fighters holed up yesterday, five days after the army recaptured the city centre. The provincial capital in the fertile Euphrates River valley west of Baghdad is the biggest city to have been recaptured from IS, and the first retaken by Iraq’s army since it collapsed in the path of the militants’ advance 18 months ago.
The victory has been hailed as a turning point by the Iraqi government, which says its rebuilt army will soon march on IS’s main Iraqi stronghold Mosul further north, and defeat the group in Iraq in 2016.
As an Iraqi army column advanced through the ruined city, an elderly woman emerged from a house waving a white flag on the end of a stick. Soon, she was followed by children, a wounded woman being pushed in a wheelbarrow, and men carrying small children in their arms. They flinched as explosions erupted in the distance.