US-led Coalition Boosting Airfield Capabilities in Syria

WASHINGTON �

With the capture of a strategic airfield in northern Syria this week from Islamic State, U.S.-backed forces and the American military have access to five air installations in the region, a network that can prove decisive in the fight against Islamic State, according to U.S. officials and analysts.

Two U.S. officials told VOA that American engineers and crews were working on repairing and restoring the airfield near Tabqa dam that was taken by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces on Sunday.

U.S. General Carlton Everhart, commander of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, told VOA that his men had airlifted SDF forces behind IS lines to allow them to launch the attack that captured the airfield.

Everhart would not confirm or deny whether his men were repairing the Tabqa airfield, because of operational security, but said his men would be able to do so at a moment’s notice.

In 2014, IS fighters gained control of the air base from Syrian forces, killing at least 160 soldiers in the battle. It was formerly a Syrian government maintenance and attack base for Syrian air force MiG fighters purchased from Russia.

SDF commanders told VOA that the airfield was in tatters when it was captured, and that Islamic State fighters had destroyed much of the infrastructure. With repairs, though, the airfield could be used for flying in supplies, military hardware and troops to help SDF rout IS from its nearby de facto capital, Raqqa, Kurdish officials say.

The capture of Tabqa airfield comes as the U.S.-led coalition has been quietly increasing its aerial capability in northern Syria to include more landing areas and bases for taking the fight to IS.

Source: Voice of America

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