The so-called “Syrian Democratic Forces”, predominantly the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), backed up by the US-led coalition’s airpower and military advisors have launched a military operation northeast of al-Raqqah aiming to seize the eastern countryside of the ISIS self-proclaimed capital.
So far, SDF units have seized the villages of Dukhkhan and Bir Said.
There are three air bases the US wants in Syria: Qamishli, Tabqa (Raqqa) and Deir EzZor. Those all have runways long enough to land large cargo aircraft. They would also allow the US military to provide close air support to the SDF and whatever head-choppers CENTCOM has hired to secure the eastern partition and oil fields stolen from Syria. Likewise, the US doesn’t want Syria to have those air bases because the SAA can launch attacks on the US invasion forces and cronies.
The US effort to grab Qamishli failed and the Russians have moved in, so that one is lost.
Deir EzZor is a work in process – the US was planning on putting their ISIS placeholders there and then kicking them out with the SDF after Raqqa. That isn’ going too well (for the US). It’s going fine so far for the SAA trying to hold the place.
Tabqa (Raqqa) is also a work in process. The ISIS placeholders have been there for a couple of years and the SDF is closing in. The US just took out the last bridge in Raqqa. The only ways across from Raqqa to the right bank are over the dams or else a bridge 80km east of Raqqa. I could see the US focusing on Tabqa and then moving on to the dam and the airbase. Without reinforcements from Raqqa, Tabqa is toast. After securing the airport, the US would move in big time to set up close air support for the move on Raqqa. If they had the dam, they could close the gates for a few days and dry up the Euphrates enough that they could drive across a temporary road to the southern side of Raqqa, which probably doesn’t have any ISIS defenses – everything is on the north side now.