Backed Syrian forces expect Raqqa assault soon, await weapons

But one crucial steppingstone in the campaign to oust the militant group from Raqqa was finally reached Tuesday, when President Donald Trump chose to arm Syrian Kurdish fighters poised to move in on the northern Syrian city.

Syrian Kurdish-led forces say they are carrying out mine-clearing operations at the country's largest dam and the nearby town of Tabqa a day after seizing them from Islamic State militants.

An SDF commander, identified only as Abdelqader, declined to specify dates at a news conference, citing tactical reasons.

No newly authorised aid had been delivered yet, Hassan said, but he added that "I believe this support will arrive soon".

The Pentagon said Isis had been using the dam as a "key coordination hub" after territorial losses in northern Syria saw the group move its foreign fighters and external attack planning to Tabqa in an effort to divert air strikes.

The battle for Tabqa was marked by fears that the dam would be severely damaged and collapse, leading to massive flooding downstream.

A USA defence official said earlier this week that the equipment would include small arms, ammunition, machine guns, armoured vehicles and bulldozers.

Signs sticking from a street post read "Know that paradise is achieved through combat", and "Prepare to fight with all your strength".

The US knew about it, but "it wouldn't have been our preference", the official told AFP.

"The civilians are coming back but there is a lack of water, electricity, bread and food", he said, sitting in front of a pile of sandbags.

The reaction to Trump's decision from Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member and an important ally in the fight against Islamic State, was swift and blunt.

Arming the Kurds is the right tack for Trump to take, a decision that for months we have been urging both Trump and his predecessor, Barack Obama, to make. "We will be monitoring it in real time". "We hated them, but we re afraid they ll come back to Tabqa", she added.

The SDF is dominated by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), seen by the United States as an indispensable ally in the fight against IS but considered a "terrorist group" by Turkey.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to convince Mr Trump to reverse his administration's decision to arm the YPG when the two leaders meet at the White House next week.

Turkey has shelled YPG positions inside Syria but has also backed rebel groups against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and against IS jihadists.

Tens of thousands of people living in besieged areas around Damascus, Homs and Aleppo - Syria's largest city - have surrendered under similar agreements in recent months, agreeing to relocate in what critics have said amounts to forced displacement.

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