Raqqa battle starting within days: French defense min.

Bolstered by air strikes and military advisers from the US-led coalition, SDF units are approaching Tabqa from the south via the airport and via the north near the IS-held dam.

SDF spokesman Talal Sello said the alliance would "begin rehabilitating the airport after clearing out explosive devices" left behind by IS and said the base's main landing strip was seriously damaged.

The coalition fighting the militants could not immediately be reached for comment.

Syrian opposition activists say US -backed fighters are on the offensive to capture a major village east of the northern city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State group.

They entered the airport earlier Sunday, backed by heavy artillery fire and air strikes by the US-led coalition, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

Earlier in the day, the media said the SDF forces planned to seize the city of Tabqa, which is the last big Daesh stronghold on the way to Raqqa, serving as Daesh's de facto capital in Syria since it was captured in 2013. He says SDF fighters are 20 kilometers from the edge of Raqqa to the north, and 29 kilometers to the northeast.

US-backed Kurdish and Arab forces are squeezing ISIS from the north, while Syrian government troops - backed up by Russian Federation - have been pushing from the west. The targets: The Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River, the nearby town of Tabqa and an airfield.

US-backed forces battled the Islamic State group around a key Syrian town Monday, after the capture of an airbase brought them closer to besieging the jihadists in their stronghold Raqa. The US military shared aerial photos of the dam on March 26, reporting that the "Tabqah Dam has not been structurally damaged to our knowledge and the Coalition seeks to preserve the integrity of the dam as a vital resource to the people of Syria".

The Coalition said it had no reports of civilians being hit but would investigate, said Associated Press.

IS has held the military airport since August 2014, and it carried out one of its worst mass killings there, of some 200 government soldiers.

The SDF is a multi-ethnic coalition that is leading the USA -backed charge in Syria.

The UN warned this year of flooding in Syria from the dam, which is at risk from high water levels, deliberate sabotage by IS and further damage from air strikes. The global coalition battling the Islamic State group in its Syrian stronghold of Raqa will begin a final push on the city in the coming days, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today.

United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura hosted Mr al-Ja'afari at United Nations offices in Geneva for the talks set to take place over at least several days around issues of governance, elections, a new constitution and the fight against terrorism.

Turkey, a longstanding USA ally in North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, strongly opposes the Kurdish role because Ankara considers the main Kurdish fighting force, known as YPG, a terrorist organization.

  • Joey Payne