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Local Forces Launch Daring Assault Behind Enemy Lines in Syria

By Cheryl Pellerin DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, March 22, 2017 — Local forces in Syria launched a multi-pronged offensive that included a daring air assault behind enemy lines to liberate Tabqa Dam, located 25 miles upstream from the city of Raqqa, the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve public affairs officer said today.

Army Col. Joseph E. Scrocca conducted a teleconference live from Baghdad with the Pentagon press corps to detail the operation planned and carried out by the Syrian Defense Forces and their Syrian Arab Coalition partners with support from the international coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The SDF liberation of Tabqa is critical to isolating Raqqa and the next step toward annihilating ISIS in Syria, Scrocca said, adding that the dam, city and airfield are critical to ISIS for importing and harboring foreign fighters and exporting terror.

The Tabqa locations are ISIS’s last link to their territory west of the Euphrates River, he said.

Isolating Raqqa

Scrocca said Tabqa Dam has been used as an ISIS headquarters, a prison for high-profile hostages and a training site for ISIS leaders. Tabqa also has housed fighter-terrorist training camps and has served as a control center for terrorist attacks against the West since ISIS took control of the location in 2013.

“Seizing Tabqa dam will isolate Raqqa from three sides and give the SDF a strategic advantage and the launching point they need to liberate the city,” he said.

A key element of the coalition’s strategy against ISIS is to work by, with and through committed and capable local partner forces fighting to liberate their people and their land, Scrocca said.

“The SDF and the local Syrian Arab Coalition fighters have proven to be the most effective ground force against ISIS in Syria, he added, “and they have proved it once again with this daring operation.”

The international coalition supported the offensive with air movement and logistical support, precision airstrikes, close-air support by Apache helicopters, Marine Corps artillery and special operations advice and assistance to SDF leadership, Scrocca said.

U.S. Army Capt. Mark G. Zwirgzdas, deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, discusses operations during the offensive to liberate West Mosul from ISIS with 9th Iraqi Army Division leaders near Al Tarab, Iraq, March 19, 2017. The 2nd BCT, 82nd Abn, Div., enables their Iraqi security forces partners through the advise and assist mission, contributing planning, intelligence collection and analysis, force protection, and precision fires to achieve the military defeat of ISIS. CJTF-OIR is the global Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)
U.S. Army Capt. Mark G. Zwirgzdas, deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, discusses operations during the offensive to liberate West Mosul from ISIS with 9th Iraqi Army Division leaders near Al Tarab, Iraq, March 19, 2017. The 2nd BCT, 82nd Abn, Div., enables their Iraqi security forces partners through the advise and assist mission, contributing planning, intelligence collection and analysis, force protection, and precision fires to achieve the military defeat of ISIS. CJTF-OIR is the global Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)
U.S. Army Capt. Mark G. Zwirgzdas, deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, discusses operations during the offensive to liberate West Mosul from ISIS with 9th Iraqi Army Division leaders near Al Tarab, Iraq, March 19, 2017. The 2nd BCT, 82nd Abn, Div., enables their Iraqi security forces partners through the advise and assist mission, contributing planning, intelligence collection and analysis, force protection, and precision fires to achieve the military defeat of ISIS. CJTF-OIR is the global Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull) 9th Iraqi Army Division begins offensive into West Mosul
U.S. Army Capt. Mark G. Zwirgzdas, deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, discusses operations during the offensive to liberate West Mosul from ISIS with 9th Iraqi Army Division leaders near Al Tarab, Iraq, March 19, 2017. The 2nd BCT, 82nd Abn, Div., enables their Iraqi security forces partners through the advise and assist mission, contributing planning, intelligence collection and analysis, force protection, and precision fires to achieve the military defeat of ISIS. CJTF-OIR is the global Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)
Fighting ISIS in Syria, Iraq

Over the last four months the coalition has conducted more than 300 airstrikes around Tabqa and to the west of Raqqa, and has killed hundreds of enemy fighters and destroyed more than 200 fortifications and more than 50 ISIS vehicles, the OIR spokesman said.

“But make no mistake about it,” Scrocca said. “It is SDF on the ground putting their lives at risk and valiantly engaging the enemy. … It is the Syrian Democratic Forces, like the Iraqi security forces, who are making the sacrifices so that other coalition nations do not continue to suffer the threat of ISIS terrorism inside their own borders.”

Turning to Mosul in Iraq, Scrocca said that while Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was meeting yesterday at the White House with President Donald J. Trump, Iraqi forces continued to pressure ISIS on multiple axes of advance in or around the western part of the city.

“It is grueling, bloody, tough fighting against a brutal and entrenched enemy who cares nothing about the local citizens and deliberately targets them as the [Iraqis] try to evacuate them from the front lines,” the OIR spokesman said, “... but the [Iraqis] are not backing down.”

Scrocca added, “This is what building partner capacity looks like on the ground. This is what the coalition has strived to instill in these soldiers and police through our training. The ‘by, with and through’ strategy is working, and we know that because we've seen what these forces are doing every day against a truly evil enemy.”

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)