The tenth of May was the last day of Tabqa battle which was launched by the Syrian Democratic Forces on March 21st, 2017. As a result of this battle, the Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by the International Coalition, are now controlling Tabqa city which was on of ISIS strongholds in Syria.
The battle, which lasted about 50 days, was based mainly on the unlimited airstrikes launched by the International Coalition air forces not to mention the parachute landing done by the US forces in a village near the city. Different tactics were taken by the attacking forces that surprised ISIS fighters who expected the attack will be on Raqqa city from its northern side but these attacking troops started to take ISIS lands bit by bit with tactics prevented ISIS fighters from getting the chance to face SDF troops directly.
Tabqa battle was not different from other battles led by the International Coalition and their local allies – SDF in Syrian and Popular mobilization forces in Iraq – against ISIS where they do not care about the lives of the civilians, several documented violations were done by the International Coalition air forces. The Syrian Network for Human Rights has published a report on the thousand day of the international Coalition operation against ISIS which says:” 1256 civilians were killed during the battle against ISIS, 383 of them are children. The air strikes which were launched in 2016 and 2017 were targeting random locations on the contrary of what was the case in 2014 and 2015.” The report pointed out that 51 massacres have been committed since the beginning of this operation in September 2014, 34 of them were in Raqqa province alone, the last one of these was in Tabqa first of May when an air strike targeted a residential house and three civilian families were killed.
The signs of Change
The first and most important sign of change in the American policy in fighting ISIS was the parachute landing over four locations in Rural Tabqa on the twenty second of March, this operation led to the control over the highway between Raqqa and Aleppo. What is different in this operation is the American involvement in a face to face battle with ISIS which was forbidden during Obama’s rule who used air forces only.
The second sign is not paying attention to the human costs that may be left behind by these battles, as mentioned above the International Coalition raids were at first very accurate but during Tabqa battle the US policy changed and based on putting the enemy under siege in the least possible geographic area; about 30 thousand civilians were confined in a geographical area of only 5 km in a very bad situation, no communications, no water and no electricity. Thousands of people were suffering inside Tabqa, and those who managed to escape it faced even worse situations where they were not provided by food water or shelter.
The third sign is the negotiating strategy with ISIS, several negotiations were made with ISIS fighters in the main three neighborhoods of Tabqa. These negotiations were mainly about providing safe exits for ISIS fighters and their families and this was actually what happened. After the handover of the city, the text of the agreement was published but not confirmed by ISIS or SDF, it includes the withdrawal of ISIS fighters from the city, providing safe exits to the fighters and ensuring they arrive safely to ISIS controlled areas in exchange of their commitment not to spoil Euphrates Dam or force civilians to accompany their fighters.
The results of Tabqa battle
By the time SDF announced their control over Tabqa city, US president Donald Trump had agreed to supply YPG with heavy military vehicles in a preparation for Raqqa battle. Pentagon has indicated that arming the Kurdish troops is very essential to ensure a clear victory in Raqqa, this was announced despite the important discussions conducted by the Turkish and US intelligence in Washington in a preparation for Erdogan’s visit to the US. This decision taken by the US administration puts the Turkish national security under a real threat. Apparently, Tabqa battle ended the discussions of how to involve Turkish troops or Arab troops supported by the Turkish army in Raqqa battle. SDF, which is mainly formed by YPG, is now the only ally of the US in fighting ISIS inside Syria according Dana White, the US administration spokesperson.