BEIRUT (AFP) – Syria regime forces backed by Russia on Friday advanced towards the strategic town of Tabqa held by the Islamic State group in the north of the country, a monitor said.
The advance came after a US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance pressed an offensive launched last week towards the jihadist-controlled town from the opposite direction.
“Russia-backed regime forces now stand less than 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Lake Assad” to the southwest of Tabqa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The town — controlled by IS since 2014 — lies some 50 kilometres to the east of the jihadist group s Syrian de facto capital of Raqa city.
“Tabqa is more important than Raqa city as it lies near the dam where IS has a large prison” and near the Tabqa military airport, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Taking Tabqa would mean cutting the supply road into Raqa from the east, he said.
“It s big advance for 24 hours,” said Abdel Rahman, whose Britain-based monitor relies on sources on the ground for its information.
Pro-regime troops had advanced around 20 kilometres since Thursday, killing at least 17 IS fighters and losing nine fighters in their ranks.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, meanwhile, on Friday stood around 60 kilometres to the northeast of Tabqa.
A US-led coalition is pressing twin offensives in Syria and neighbouring Iraq where Iraqi forces made progress Friday in their assault on Fallujah, moving into a southern neighbourhood.