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US-backed Syria force advances against IS militants in Tabqa

AFP , Sunday 30 Apr 2017
Syria
U.S military vehicles travel in the northeastern city of Qamishli, Syria April 29, 2017. Picture taken April 29, 2017. (REUTERS)
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A US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance is advancing against the Islamic State group in the key town of Tabqa near the jihadist bastion of Raqa in northern Syria, a monitor said.

The Syrian Democratic Forces now control at least 40 percent of the town of Tabqa, and more than half of its heart, the Old City, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said fighting was continuing in the town on Sunday morning.

The SDF entered Tabqa on Monday as part of their offensive against Raqa, IS's de facto Syrian capital. Supported by US-led coalition air strikes and special forces advisers, the SDF surrounded Tabqa in early April.

The town sits on a strategic supply route about 55 kilometres (34 miles) west of Raqa, and served as an important IS command base, housing the group's main prison.

It is also adjacent to the Tabqa dam, another important strategic prize which remains under IS control.

The assault on Tabqa began in late March when SDF forces and their US-led coalition allies were airlifted behind IS lines.

The city was home to around 240,000 residents before 2011, and more than 80,000 people have fled to it from other parts of the country.

IS has put up fierce resistance, including using weaponised drones, a tactic the group perfected in neighbouring Iraq.

The group is also fighting street-to-street and using suicide attackers and car bombs to slow the SDF's advance, according to the Observatory.

The assault on Raqa, dubbed "Wrath of the Euphrates," was launched in November and has seen SDF fighters capture large swathes of countryside around the city.

More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the country's war began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

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