Syria’s Tabqa Dam: A strategic prize

A view shows part of Tabqa dam on the Euphrates river, near Raqqa, Syria, in this June 25, 2014 file photo. (Reuters)
Updated 29 March 2017

Syria’s Tabqa Dam: A strategic prize

BEIRUT: Syria’s vital Tabqa Dam, the country’s biggest, has become a major part of a Kurdish-Arab assault to cut off Daesh stronghold of Raqqa.
Located in Raqqa province, the dam is built on the 2,800-km-long River, which flows from Turkey through northern Syria and east into Iraq.
The dam is 4.5-km-long, 60-meter-high and 512-meter wide at its base.
Its reservoir, Lake Assad, stretches along 50 km and covers a surface of 630 sq. km. Its total capacity is 12 billion cubic meters of water, making it Syria’s main reserve.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are fighting for the dam and the nearby town of Tabqa before they can advance on Daesh’s de facto Syrian capital, Raqqa.
SDF forces and their allies from a US-led coalition were airlifted behind Daesh lines last week by US helicopters to launch an assault on the dam, around 55 km west of Raqqa.
The SDF have already captured Tabqa’s military airport.
The dam fell into the hands of Syrian opposition fighters in February 2013, before Daesh seized control of Raqqa and its eponymous province in early 2014.
On Tuesday, the situation was relatively calm around the dam, which is still held by Daesh.
The facility went out of service over the weekend after bomb damage to its power station, risking rising water levels if the situation continues, according to a technical source.
The UN’s humanitarian coordination agency OCHA has warned that damage to the dam “could lead to massive scale flooding across Raqqa and as far away as Deir Ez Zor,” a province downstream.
Syrian farmers near the Euphrates say they are terrified Daesh will blow up the dam to defend Raqqa, drowning their tiny villages in the process.
“If this happens, it means most of Raqqa and Deir Ez Zor will drown, while other towns die of thirst and crops and livestock die,” one told AFP.
The Tabqa Dam, also known as the Euphrates Dam, and Al-Thawra Dam (Dam of the Revolution) is as important for Syria as the massive Aswan Dam is for Egypt.
Like the latter, it was built with help from the former Soviet Union, a longtime ally of the Syrian regime.
Building began in 1968, and it was inaugurated in July 1973 during the reign of President Hafez Assad, father of the current leader Bashar Assad.
The Euphrates is the main source of water for agriculture and livestock in the region, and the dam has given Raqqa an important role in the Syrian economy.
It was designed to generate 880 megawatts of electricity and provide irrigation for more than 600,000 hectares (1.5 million acres) of land.
But high salt levels in the surrounding land have reduced the amount actually irrigated to less than a third.


Kurdish fighters withdraw from besieged Syria town

Updated 37 min 41 sec ago

Kurdish fighters withdraw from besieged Syria town

  • The evacuation opens the way for Turkish-backed forces to take over in first pullback under US-brokered cease-fire
  • The Trump administration negotiated the accord after heavy criticism at home and abroad

RAS AL-AIN, Syria: The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces fully withdrew from a Turkish-encircled town in northern Syria on Sunday, in what appeared to be the start of a wider pullout under a cease-fire deal.
Ankara launched a cross-border attack against Syria’s Kurds on October 9 after the United States announced a military pullout from the war-torn country’s north.
A US-brokered cease-fire was announced late Thursday, giving Kurdish forces until Tuesday evening to withdraw from a buffer area Ankara wants to create on Syrian territory along its southern frontier.
The deal requires the SDF — the de facto army of Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria — to pull out of the border zone extending 32 kilometers (20 miles) deep into Syrian territory, the length of which is not clear.
The Kurds have agreed to withdraw from an Arab-majority stretch of border from Tal Abyad to Ras Al-Ain, around 120 kilometers (70 miles).
But Turkey ultimately wants a much longer “safe zone” to stretch 440 kilometers along the frontier.
On Saturday, SDF commander Mazloum Abdi said Kurdish forces would withdraw from the 120-kilometer zone as soon as they were allowed out of Ras Al-Ain, which was besieged by Turkey’s troops and Syrian proxies.
The SDF later said its fighters had completely evacuated the border town as part of the truce agreement, after Turkey’s defense ministry confirmed they were departing.
An AFP reporter on the ground saw at least 50 vehicles, including ambulances, leaving the town hospital, from which flames erupted shortly after their departure.
Dozens of fighters in military attire left on pickups, passing by checkpoints manned by Ankara-allied Syrian fighters, he said.
In the town of Tal Tamr, Samira, 45, was among women and men carrying SDF flags awaiting the convoy from Ras Al-Ain.
“I can’t believe Sari Kani has fallen,” she said, using the Kurdish name for Ras Al-Ain.
“We’re saluting our fighters who defended us, though the great powers betrayed our people,” she told AFP.
Earlier this month, US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of US special forces from northern Syria in what was widely seen as betrayal of the Kurds and a green light for a Turkish attack.
The Kurds have been a key ally to Washington in the US-backed fight against Daesh in Syria, but Turkey views them as “terrorists” linked to Kurdish militants on its own soil.
A week ago, the Pentagon said Trump had ordered up to 1,000 troops out of northern Syria.
Earlier Sunday, US forces withdrew from their largest base in northern Syria, the Observatory said.
The correspondent in Tal Tamr saw more than 70 US armored vehicles escorted by helicopters drive eastwards on the highway, some flying the American flag.
The Observatory said the convoy was evacuating the Sarrin military base on the edge of the planned buffer zone.
Sunday’s pullout, the fourth such withdrawal of American forces in a week, left Syria’s northern provinces of Aleppo and Raqqa empty of US troops, Abdel Rahman said.
Since October 9, Turkish-led bombardment and fire has killed 114 civilians and displaced at least 300,000 people from their homes, the Observatory says, in the latest humanitarian crisis in Syria’s eight-year civil war.
More than 250 SDF fighters and 190 pro-Ankara combatants have lost their lives, it says.
Ankara says it has lost five soldiers.
On Sunday, the Observatory said pro-Ankara fighters executed three civilians who were hiding in an industrial part of Ras Al-Ain.
On Twitter, Trump cited Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday as saying the cease-fire was “holding up very nicely.”
“There are some minor skirmishes that have ended quickly. New areas being resettled with the Kurds,” he said.
The Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syrian said they were “perplexed” by Trump’s statement on a successful truce.
“Turkey and its mercenaries have absolutely not abided by it and repeatedly violated it,” they said in a statement.
“Trump saying the Kurds have been resettled in new areas opened the way to ethnic cleansing,” it warned, calling for international protection for the displaced.
International observers have warned that Turkey’s incursion could force Kurdish fighters to redeploy from prisons and camps where they are guarding thousands of suspected Daesh fighters and family members, making way for jailbreaks.
That has raised fears of a resurgence by the extremists, whom the SDF expelled from their last scrap of territory in March but who continue to claim deadly attacks in Kurdish-held areas.