FSA fighter: After Tel Abyad, onwards to A-Raqqa

AMMAN: The combined forces of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Free Syrian Army (FSA) making up the Euphrates Volcano joint operations room entered the outskirts of the city of Tel Abyad in A-Raqqa province on Monday, the Syrian Press Center reported, as they continue the assault on the border city currently under Islamic State control.

“The combined forces entered Tel Abyad and positioned themselves on the frontline east of [the city],” Farouq, an FSA Euphrates Volcano fighter told Syria Direct on Monday.

Local groups are playing a significant role in the ongoing battle, he says, with groups from Tel Abyad and the Tel Abyad Farouq Brigade working alongside YPG units to retake the city, which lies less than a kilometer from the border with Turkey.

Tal Abyad’s border location makes it a hub for goods, weapons, and fighters to enter IS territory from Turkey. A rebel victory would sever an important supply route for the Islamic State.

 Rebels repair a bridge blown up by IS on the road into Tel Abyad Monday. Photo courtesy of YPG.

As YPG-FSA forces advance, IS is pulling back, citizen journalist Furat al-Wafa told Syria Direct on Monday. “IS was [at] roadblocks and forward points in the city, but they withdrew to avoid the [international] coalition planes.”

IS fighters detonated two bridges near the city as they withdrew on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, and built a three-meter-deep trench around the city in preparation for the battle, local news website Tel Abyad News reported.

Even before the battle begins within Tel Abyad proper, rebels are looking to the future.

“The battles [after Tel Abyad] will continue towards A-Raqqa [city] and all the Syrian provinces,” Farouq said. “Tel Abyad is not Syria, only part of it.”

A-Raqqa city lies 80 kilometers directly south of Tel Abyad, and is one of the most important IS strongholds in Syria.

Kurdish leadership echoed the FSA fighter’s sentiment on Monday. “The liberation of Tel Abyad is only the end of a phase and not the end of the war against IS,” Sheikh Hassan, the YPG defense chief for the Kobani area told the Kurdish Welati network. “We will pursue what remains of IS, no matter where.” 

Meanwhile, thousands of Syrians fleeing the fighting were allowed through the nearby Turkish border on Monday after days of waiting, UAE-based Al-Aan news reported.

Ammar Hamou

Ammar Hammou is from Douma city in outer Damascus. He studied journalism at Damascus University and left Syria in 2011.

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.