TABQA, SYRIA - Nearly four years after it was liberated from the Islamic State (IS) terror group, the Syrian town of Tabqa has become a leading example of the reconstruction efforts currently underway in parts of the war-ravaged country.
Tabqa, which is part of Raqqa province in northern Syria, was freed from IS militants in May 2017 following a major military campaign spearheaded by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
While the town is still controlled by SDF-affiliated groups, its military airbase fell under control of Syrian government troops and allied Russian forces in October 2019, after those nations reached a deal with the SDF. The deal was part of a broader understanding intended to stop a major Turkish-led offensive in northeast Syria. Turkey views the SDF as a terrorist organization.
Under IS rule and during the war against the militant group, much of the Tabqa’s infrastructure was destroyed.
Local officials say their efforts since Tabqa’s liberation have focused primarily on restoring basic services for the local population.
“In 2020, we entered a new phase of rebuilding Tabqa,” said Abdulhamid Khamiri, co-chair of Tabqa civilian council. “We cleaned up the city and tried to end all scenes of destruction.
“In 2021, we have a much bigger plan for the city,” he told VOA.
Khamiri said plans for the coming months include ways to rebuild the local economy through long-term investment projects.
The latest project in Tabqa’s reconstruction process is a major shopping mall, which reportedly will be the largest in northeastern Syria.
“This mall, with a floor area of 4,000 square meters, has 84 stores, 24 halls and six restaurants,” said Adib Hussein, head of the North Construction company, which is responsible for building the mall and other construction projects in the city.
The mall “will be open for customers very soon,” Hussein said.
While some experts say Tabqa’s rich natural resources could help it recover faster than other cities formerly occupied by IS, efforts by former President Donald Trump to secure and develop Syrian oilfields have largely been stalled by legal challenges over who holds the right to sell it and to whom.
But U.S.-based Syrian affairs analyst Ahed al-Hendi says there is more to it than that.
“What helps this notion of an accelerated recovery process in Tabqa is the fact that it has a very vibrant cosmopolitan community that is willing to use international funding much more effectively than other cities and towns liberated from IS,” said al-Hendi, a former VOA contributor who has worked closely with the Syrian Kurdish-led administration in the region.
Al-Hendi, who recently visited Tabqa during a trip to northeastern Syria, said the town was known as a place that managed local affairs efficiently even prior to IS rule.
The United States has funded several significant projects as part of its post-IS stabilization efforts in the region, rehabilitating Tabqa's main hospital in 2018 along with coalition partners such as the Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The U.S. government says that since the beginning of Syria’s conflict in 2011, the United States has provided over $12 billion in humanitarian and stabilization assistance to the civilian population in the country.