BEIRUT (AP) — U.S.-backed Syrian fighters on Monday pushed ahead in their offensive in northern Syria against members of the Islamic State group under the cover of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, moving closer to a strategic town that is home to the country’s largest dam.
The latest advance by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces showed that operations were still ongoing after last week’s U.S. missile attack on a Syrian army air base in the country’s center. That attack followed a chemical attack on the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed 87 people.
The U.S. blamed the Syrian government for the attack — a charge that Syria strongly denied, saying it hit a rebel arsenal that had chemical weapons.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting between the SDF and IS members on the eastern outskirts of the town of Tabqa left at least 11 extremists dead. It said 36 IS fighters have been killed in fighting since Sunday.
The SDF said on social media that its fighters marched about 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the eastern side of Tabqa, the location of Syria’s largest dam.
Separately, the Pentagon said U.S. military advisers helped U.S.-trained Syrian opposition forces to repel an IS attack on the al-Tanf border crossing between Syria and Iraq over the weekend.
Air Force Col. John J. Thomas, spokesman for U.S. Central Command, told reporters at the Pentagon that military advisers were present at the time of the fighting.
“U.S. and coalition forces were on the ground in the area as they normally are, and participated in repulsing the attack,” he said. “There was close air support that was provided. There was ground support that was provided” as well as U.S. medical evacuation support.
“Ultimately the attackers were killed, defeated or chased off,” he said. He said three Syrian opposition fighters were killed.
CENTCOM military command said in a statement the IS militants attacked the checkpoint with a car bomb and 20 to 30 fighters.
Last week, SDF fighters captured the area of Safsafeh east of Tabqa, laying siege to the town. On March 22, U.S. aircraft ferried forces behind militant lines in the Tabqa area to spearhead a major assault near the extremists’ de facto capital, Raqqa.
Associated Press writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.
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