US-led coalition air drops Syrian rebel forces in Raqqa province
REUTERS photoThe U.S.-led coalition has airlifted Syrian rebel forces to an operation near the Syrian town of Tabqa in Raqqa province while providing them with fire support, U.S. defense officials said on March 22.
Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said U.S. air assets had been used to airlift members of the Syrian Arab Coalition, part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) group, in a bid to retake the Tabqa Dam.
“Coalition forces are assisting the Syrian Arab Coalition with airlift and fire support in an operation to seize the Tabqa dam,” Pentagon spokesman Rankine-Galloway said, according to AFP.
He did not provide details on the size of the forces moved or what type of fire support was provided.
The SDF mainly consists of Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) forces, which are the military wing of the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD).
Turkey regards the PYD and YPG as terror organizations due to their links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and are at odds with the U.S. over the designation of the YPG and PYD.
The operation aims both to capture the strategic Tabqa area across the Euphrates River from the SDF’s other holdings and to curb Syrian government advances in that direction, the U.S.-backed alliance of militias said in a statement on a social media feed.
Pentagon’s statement came hours after another statement from the SDF on social media, in which it also said the U.S.-led coalition had air-dropped U.S. and allied Syrian forces near Tabqa.
“American forces have conducted a landing operation for U.S. ground forces, along with special forces” from the Raqqa campaign, the SDF statement said.
The landing forces seized four small villages in the area west of Tabqa and cut a main highway that links the provinces of Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor and Aleppo, the SDF said.
With the help of air strikes and special forces operations from the U.S.-led coalition, the SDF is waging a campaign to encircle Raqqa, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) most important holding in Syria and self-declared capital.
The SDF alliance cut the last main road out of Raqqa earlier this month, narrowing in on the city from the north, east and west.
Turkey has pressed the U.S. to not include the YPG in further campaigns to liberate Raqqa from ISIL.