A battle against Islamic State to recapture the Syrian city of Raqqa is likely to start in the coming days, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Pentagon department had said that the U.S. -led coalition against Islamic State had for the first time airdropped local ground forces behind enemy lines near the ISIS-held town of Tabqa in northern Syria, opening up a new front in the campaign to recapture Raqqa.
Apache helicopters, U.S. Marine artillery and special operation troops were part of this operation to drop SDF fighters near Tabqa.
The airlift was a major development to the SDF's multifront campaign to bear down on Raqqa, as USA -backed Iraqi forces simultaneously press their assault to seize Mosul from the militants, in neighboring Iraq.
The Syrian army withdrew from the airbase in August 2014, the year IS declared its caliphate in Raqqa and took the city as its capital.
The decision sets President Donald Trump's wish for quick battlefield victories against the need to maintain the United States' longstanding strategic alliance with Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally which provides the United States access to a base critical for the air war in Syria.
Col. Joseph Scrocca, spokesman in Baghdad for the US -led coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq, said the USA -backed forces have used boats on Lake Assad to bring in reinforcements as well as heavy equipment and armoured vehicles.
"People are scared. But [ISIS] wants to show the people there is normal life, that nothing has happened", he says, citing activists in the wider Raqqa region.
Some U.S. officials think that timeline is too optimistic, noting that a major battle underway for Tabqa dam, about 25 miles (40 km) west of Raqqa, could take weeks to complete. "Don't know if it'll be the last", he said.
The Observatory said there were no evacuations happening from Raqqa, as did the activist-run Raqqa 24 media center.
And another source told the BBC the power had been partially restored.
That airlift marked a deepening US involvement in Syria's conflict ahead of a looming battle for the extremist group's de facto capital, the city of Raqqa.
The Syrian National Coalition said in a statement that it was "increasingly concerned" about civilian casualties in the campaign against the extremist group.
United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura hosted Mr al-Ja'afari at United Nations offices in Geneva for the talks set to take place over at least several days around issues of governance, elections, a new constitution and the fight against terrorism.
The coalition is investigating this.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said coalition airstrikes have killed 89 civilians in Raqqa province in the past week, including 35 in a school in the village of Mansoura.
The YPG, Kurdish fighters who are part of this coalition, had moved to control several parts of Tabqa military airport to the west of Raqqa city, according to reports.