US-backed Syrian fighters pressing IS gunmen in north

BEIRUT (AP) — U.S.-backed Syrian fighters pushed ahead in their offensive in northern Syria on Monday against members of the Islamic State group under the cover of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes getting closer to a strategic town that is home to the country’s largest dam.

The latest advance by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces showed that operations were still ongoing after last week’s U.S. missile attack on a Syrian army air base in the country’s center. That attack followed a chemical attack on the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed 87 people.

The U.S. blamed the Syrian government for the attack — a charge that Syria strongly denied, saying it hit a rebel arsenal that had chemical weapons.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting between the SDF and IS members on the eastern outskirts of the town of Tabqa left at least 11 extremists dead. It said 36 IS fighters have been killed in the fighting since Sunday.

The SDF said on social media that its fighters marched about 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the eastern side of Tabqa, the location of Syria’s largest dam.

Last week, SDF fighters captured the area of Safsafeh east of Tabqa, laying siege to the town.

On March 22, U.S. aircraft ferried forces behind militant lines in the Tabqa area to spearhead a major assault near the extremists’ de facto capital, Raqqa.