UPDATE March 23 The Kurdish YPG released video of nighttime preparations for the operation and daylight river crossing by boat
The US-led coalition against Islamic State air-dropped US and Syrian Democratic Forces near Tabqa, west of Raqqa, on March 22, the SDF’s Raqqa campaign said, Lebanon’s Daily Star reported.
The SDF statement said the operation aims to capture the strategic Tabqa area across the Euphrates from other SDF-held territory.
The Pentagon confirmed that US artillery is supporting the operation, AFP’s Maya Gebily reported.
During the period of darkness, March 21st to 22nd, the Syrian Democratic Forces launched a daring air assault to seize the Tabqah Dam.
— Inherent Resolve (@CJTFOIR) March 22, 2017
US military spokesperson Colonel Joseph Scrocca said Apache helicopters, US Marine artillery and special operation troops were involved in the operation, Reuters reported.
Srocca said that about “75 to 80 percent” of the SDF forces were members of the Syrian Arab Coalition and some of the remainder were Kurdish fighters.
An unnamed US official said US military advisers are on the ground with the SDF but not necessarily at the front lines, CNN reported.
The US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement that overnight March 21-22, a multi-pronged offensive was launched behind Islamic State lines to liberate the Tabqah Dam.
The statement confirmed that “The Coalition supported this offensive with air movement and logistical support, precision airstrikes, Apache helicopters in close air support, Marine artillery, and special operations advice and assistance to SDF leadership.”
“Seizing Tabqah Dam will isolate Raqqah from three sides and give the SDF the strategic advantage and launching point needed for the liberation of the city. The area is critical to ISIS’s ability to import and harbor foreign fighters, export terror, and is ISIS’s last link to territory west of the Euphrates.
Pentagon spokesman Eric Pohan said the dam is important because it provides electricity to the area, adding that taking a nearby military airfield was also part of the mission.
Multiple social media posts say the SDF/US forces captured Hidaj, Al-Mushayrifah, Al-Jameen and Al-Krain and cut the road between Aleppo and Raqqa.
Srocca said the air drop of fighters caught Islamic State off guard and the SDF had already captured several villages near Tabqa, Stars and Stripes reported, adding that he expected the operation to liberate the town, the dam and a nearby military airfield last several weeks.
The operation comes a day after the coalition bombed a school housing displaced people in nearby Mansoura, killing at least 33.