A key monitoring group says Syrian troops backed by Russian air power have regained control of a key pumping station near the Turkish border from Islamic State extremists.
The facility at al-Khafsa, which supplies Syria’s second-largest city, Aleppo, with most of its fresh water, was shuttered by IS fighters nearly eight weeks ago, forcing the city’s 1.5 million residents to rely on local wells and private vendors for critical supplies.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the capture of the pumping station on the western bank of the Euphrates River came early Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters withdrew to the northeast.
The move is the latest gain in a rapid government offensive against IS that monitors say has resulted in the capture of nearly 20 villages and forced more than 40,000 civilians to flee to the northeast toward Manbij in recent weeks.
Manbij and the surrounding area are held by a U.S.-backed Kurdish alliance known as Syrian Democratic Forces.
Trilateral talks in Turkey
In a related development, top Turkish, Russian and U.S. military officials met Tuesday in coastal southwest Turkey to coordinate logistics and maintain order among three rival anti-jihadist armies converging on Manbij in preparation for an eventual attack on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim described the talks at Antalya, which are set to continue Wednesday, as aimed at avoiding “the risk of unwanted clashes” and preventing “parties from interfering with each other’s operations.”
Anti-jihadist forces include largely Sunni Turkish troops, the Shi’ite dominated Syrian army and its Russian allies, and the U.S.-backed Kurdish alliance, the SDF.
Strategists have warned that longstanding antipathy between two of the anti-jihadist forces — Turkey and Kurdish militia of the SDF — could boil over into conflict once the two armies meet Syrian forces near Manbij.
Addressing the possibility of intra-alliance conflict Monday, the Pentagon announced the deployment of U.S. forces in and near Manbij to “deter” members of the loosely knit alliance from attacking each other.
Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said, “We want to … show that we are there to deter all parties from fighting anybody other than ISIS,” an acronym for Islamic State.
A local official in Manbij told VOA that U.S. troops were attempting to broker talks between Kurdish and Turkish forces. However, Pentagon officials said Monday they were not aware of any talks.