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Dozens of ISIS Fighters Let Go on Condition They Cleared IEDs from Critical Dam Near Raqqa

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Islamic State moved a step closer to losing their capital city in Syria as al-Tabqa, a city 35 miles west of ISIS’ capital Raqqa that includes a critical dam on the Euphrates, fell to the Syrian Democratic Forces on Wednesday.

The SDF — an anti-ISIS, anti-Qaeda, anti-Assad coalition composed of more than 50,000 fighters, female and male commanders, Arabs, Assyrian Christians, Kurds, and other minority ethnic groups — launched the Wrath of Euphrates operation at the beginning of November. Since then, the SDF has liberated about 5,000 square miles of territory in the surgical advance to encircle and choke off Raqqa before moving in.

Fifty days of fighting in al-Tabqa had been fierce — and painstaking, in an effort to avoid damage to the dam. Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. mission against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, confirmed the SDF had liberated the dam, the city and its nearby airfield.

Coalition spokesman Col. John Dorrian today lauded “our most committed and capable ground force partners in the fight against ISIS who remain hard at work erasing ISIS from the battlefield, liberating their own people and lands.”

After the SDF surrounded al-Tabqa and battled the terrorist group for weeks, about 70 remaining ISIS fighters surrendered to the SDF this week with the conditions that they dismantle IEDs they had placed around the dam, hand over all of their heavy weapons and get all ISIS fighters out of town.

After the SDF cut the deal with ISIS to protect the dam, fleeing ISIS fighters were tracked and “those that could be safely hit without harming civilians” were targeted, OIR said, adding that the deal “prevented a potential humanitarian disaster and ensured local citizens will continue to receive the dam’s basic services.”

“The SDF’s success against ISIS demonstrates the power of working by, with and through local partner forces fighting ISIS, among their own people, in their own territory,” said Dorrian. “The SDF, fighting to liberate their own people and lands, have freed more than 8,000 square kilometers of Syria from ISIS since November.”

At a Wednesday briefing via video link from Baghdad, Dorrian said that as the SDF puts the squeeze on Raqqa the coalition has “observed ISIS sabotaging infrastructure by blocking river flow to create temporary earthen dams, creating flooding intended to slow our partners’ advance in the countryside around Raqqa to both the east and the west.”

“The coalition is assisted by striking some of these and the heavy equipment that the enemy has used to build these earth and dams, restoring normal water flow and eliminating the obstacle,” he said.