On Wednesday, a US official told CNN that fighters in Syria have begun a major ground offensive to retake a vital dam near Raqqa from ISIS, they are backed up by US forces.
Unprecedented air assault is included in the attack; US helicopters landing behind enemy lines flying about 500 local US allies and coalition military advisers across the Euphrates River and Lake Assad to attack the ISIS-controlled dam, neighboring town, and airfield from the south.
On a call with reporters from Baghdad Wednesday Coalition public affairs officer, Col. Joseph Scrocca, said: “This is the first time we have conducted an air movement, air assault, with the Syrian Arab Coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces.” He called the air operation a “daring assault behind enemy lines.”
A military source said almost 500 troops were airlifted behind enemy lines. The attack was backed by airstrikes carried out by Apache helicopters and Marines firing M777 howitzers.
Tough fighting could keep going for weeks, as ISIS remains in control of the area after the attack. Scrocca said “We believe there are foreign fighters there, probably in the hundreds. The (Syrian Democratic Forces) and our partners there are facing a pretty heavy fight — that’s what makes this type of operation so daring. I think we were lucky we caught ISIS by surprise. They are still reacting to this maneuver.”
ISIS capital retake:
According to the US, Tabqa Dam is around 25 miles west of Raqqa, which is ISIS’ self-declared capital, it supplies electric power to a wide area of Syria. The area has been under ISIS control since 2013.
Isolating the area around Raqqa and eventually recapturing the city will happen after retaking the dam. Scrocca warned that destroying the dam could lead to a severe humanitarian crisis.
Earlier this month, US Marines equipped with artillery arrived in northern Syria to accelerate the capabilities of the US-backed Arab and Kurdish forces there. Due to security concerns in the region, the Pentagon and Marine Corps declined to confirm the deployment. They also refused to specify the exact location of the forces or how many are there.
Last year, a similar deployment occurred near Mosul, Iraq, involving several hundred Marines equipped with artillery guns to provide covering fire for advancing forces.
On March 8, a US official told reporters that intelligence shows some ISIS leaders and operatives are trying to leave the city. The official added that US intelligence indicates that the city is laced with trenches, tunnels, roadside bombs and houses and buildings wired to explode.
The official added that Raqqa will probably not be the final battle against ISIS and that the group still has some personnel dispersed in areas south and east of the city.
According to very rough US estimates, ISIS could have almost 4,000 fighters in Raqqa, however, the terror group has lost around 3,400 square kilometers in a wide arc north of the city.