• Darren Lindeman

The battle for Tabqa, a blueprint for future counter insurgency operations?

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

According to a press release by U.S Centcom  "During the period of darkness, March 21-22, the Syrian Democratic Forces, with their Syrian Arab Coalition fighters, launched a multi-pronged offensive behind enemy lines to liberate the Tabqah Dam in Syria from ISIS. The offensive was led by the dedicated multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Forces and supported by the Coalition. A key element of the Coalition's strategy against ISIS is to work by, with, and through committed and capable local partner forces fighting to liberate their own people and lands. 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. Over the last four months, the Coalition has conducted more than 300 airstrikes around Tabqah and near Raqqah that have killed hundreds of enemy fighters, destroyed more than 200 fortifications, and more than 50 ISIS vehicles.

"It takes a special breed of warrior to pull off an airborne operation or air assault behind enemy lines," said Col. Joe Scrocca "There is nothing easy about this - it takes audacity and courage.  And the SDF has that in spades." 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. Tabqah Dam has been used as an ISIS headquarters, a prison for high-profile hostages, a training location, and for external terror plotting since ISIS took control of the location in 2013. "The SDF and their local Syrian Arab Coalition fighters, have proven to be the most effective ground force against ISIS in Syria - and they are proving that once again with this daring operation," said Scrocca. Tabqah Dam is a key element of northern Syria's economy, agriculture and way of life, and its destruction by ISIS could lead to a severe humanitarian crisis. 

The Coalition will take every precaution to ensure the dam's integrity. "It is the SDF on the ground, putting their lives at risk, and violently engaging the enemy," said Scrocca.  "And it is the SDF, like the Iraqi Security Forces, who are making the sacrifice so that other Coalition nations do not continue to suffer the threat of ISIS terrorism inside our own borders."

During March 2017, American and partnered Syrian forces conducted a major offensive against the Islamic State. The attack included an unprecedented air assault involving US helicopters landing behind enemy lines -- flying about 500 local US allies and coalition military advisers across the Euphrates River and Lake Assad so they could attack the ISIS-controlled dam and neighboring town and airfield from the south. The attack, is the first example of a large operational scale, airborne assault against the Islamic State. Although the implementation of major airborne assaults had historical roots back to the second world war, the use of a large scale, simultaneous airborne assault is a rarity in the twentieth century. Helicopters are often used for tactical circumstances as opposed to for a major, single coordinated maneuver behind enemy lines. The most infamous example of this type of maneuver was during the events of Black Hawk Down, where 18 American servicemen lost their lives.

The war in Syria doesn't appear to reference an observer with airborne assaults and with relation to that the use of attacking at night. The Tabqa assault was not only an airborne assault operation but likely a highly digitally linked operation with U.S. surveillance and fire control systems, such as drones and electronic targeting systems. Operating at night would allow U.S backed forces to achieve their objectives with the enemy unable to respond in proper. These systems likely played a major role in giving the U.S led forces more battle space information which then gave the U.S led force's its targets for the battles against a largely human enemy. What the battle of Tabqa really questions an observer is why isn't similar battles repeated with the same recipes that led to the battle's assumptive successes. The battle of Tabqa would also be similar of a concept to what former U.S intelligence offical Malcom Nance argued for as a method of defeating ISIS as stated in this Warisboring article.


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