US-coalition sees no ‘imminent risk’ to Syria’s hydroelectric Tabqa dam

BEIRUT: The US-led coalition said on Monday it saw no imminent danger to a major hydroelectric dam that allied Syrian militias are fighting to take from IS, unless the fighters planned to blow it up.
It spoke after a senior Syrian government official warned on Sunday that the Tabqa Dam had already been damaged by US-led air strikes targeting IS and cited an increasing risk of catastrophic flooding and collapse.
For its part, IS said on Sunday that the dam’s operating systems were not working properly and it was vulnerable to collapse.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish fighters, paused operations for four hours on Monday to allow engineers to inspect the Euphrates Dam at Tabqa, a major target in their campaign to encircle and capture IS’s biggest urban stronghold of Raqqa.
An SDF spokeswoman said the dam should be fully captured within days after the forces took its northern entrance last week. Raqqa city is located around 40 km downstream on the Euphrates river to the east.
A Kurdish leader separately told Reuters he expected Raqqa to eventually become part of a new system of federal government being set up by Kurdish groups and their allies, a step certain to deepen Turkish concern about rising Kurdish power in Syria.
The SDF, which includes the Kurdish YPG militia, has been closing in on Raqqa since November with support from coalition air strikes and US special forces on the ground. The YPG has said a final assault on the city will begin in early April.
Neighbouring Turkey opposes the Kurdish role in Raqqa, and has been lobbying Washington to take part itself. Washington says no decision has been taken on when and how Raqqa will be captured, even as the SDF approaches the city.
The SDF seized Tabqa air base on Sunday, the first such facility to fall under the control of Syrian Kurdish militias and their allies that now control swathes of northern Syria after six years of multi-sided civil war.
The SDF says it will repair and use the base.
The SDF’s Raqqa campaign said in a statement the assault on the Tabqa Dam had been put on hold for four hours following a request by the Syrian government’s water authority.
The SDF later said there was no damage or “malfunction” at the dam. The US-led coalition said that “to our knowledge, the dam has not been structurally damaged”.
“We do not assess the dam to be in imminent danger unless ISIS plans to destroy it,” said Colonel Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting IS, using another acronym for IS.
“The SDF are in control of a spillway north of the dam that provides water to an irrigation reclamation canal which can be used to alleviate pressure on the dam if need be. If the lake reaches dangerous levels the SDF can relieve the pressure through alternative means.”
 — AFP