US-backed militias in Syria have captured an ancient citadel from Daesh in a strategically significant advance against the militant group in its stronghold of Raqqa province, a spokesman said today.
The Jabar citadel on the banks of Lake Assad was taken by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance yesterday, militia spokesman Talal Silo said. It is located near a dam on the Euphrates River that the US-backed alliance also aims to capture in the current phase of its campaign.
Mamoun Abdulkarim, the Syrian government's antiquities chief, told Reuters in Damascus the SDF's capture of the castle represented a "victory for the Syrian people because liberating the citadel from Daesh is saving Syrian heritage."
The SDF, which is dominated by the powerful Kurdish leftist YPG militia, is the main partner for the United States in the campaign it is leading against Daesh in Syria. SDF forces are just a few kilometres from a major dam also held by Daesh.
Daesh is also being fought in separate campaigns by the Russian-backed Assad regime and allied Iran-backed Shia jihadists in Deir Al-Zor province and near the ancient town of Palmyra, which Daesh seized for a second time in December, and by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels in Aleppo province near the Syrian-Turkish border.
Turkey is at loggerheads with the US over its support for the YPG, as Ankara considers it to be an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an extremist leftist group fighting for Kurdish independence in Turkey.
Turkey, the United States and the European Union consider the PKK to be a terrorist organisation. The PKK's insurgency has claimed tens of thousands of lives since the 1980s, mostly civilians.
Silo said SDF advances had been slowed by thick fog that had allowed Daesh insurgents to use infiltration tactics to attack SDF positions, he said. The weather had now improved, he added in an interview over the internet.
"The direction of our forces is towards the area of the dam at present," Silo said.
The SDF launched a US-backed operation in Raqqa province in November aimed ultimately at capturing Raqqa itself from Daesh. The first phase gained territory to the north of the city and the current phase is targeting areas to the west of it.