US-Backed Syrian Forces Thrust Into Last ISIS Pocket

US-Backed Syrian Forces Thrust Into Last ISIS Pocket

Thursday, 13 December, 2018 - 10:15
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are backed by the US-led international coalition against the ISIS terrorist group | AFP
London- Asharq Al-Awsat
Kurdish-led forces on Thursday moved deep into Hajin, the main village in the last pocket still held by the ISIS terrorist group in eastern Syria, a war monitor said.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with support from airstrikes conducted by the US-led coalition, deployed across the Euphrates Valley village.

Colonel Sean Ryan, spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIS, said: "The SDF has progressed into (Hajin), and the advancement is going well".

A video posted on FuratPost news portal showed SDF fighters walking in the marketplace of the town near a mosque where damage was extensive. Gunfire was heard in the background.

"The SDF managed to break the defenses of ISIS after massing a large number of fighters backed by the international coalition," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"They achieved quick progress inside Hajin, the largest of the villages that were controlled by ISIS," Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based monitoring organization, said.

The SDF said on social media they had "liberated the city center of Hajin and the big mosque".

Hajin lies on the east bank of the Euphrates in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, about 30 kilometers from the border with Iraq.

The area held by ISIS is sometimes referred to as the "Hajin pocket", the last rump of a once-sprawling "caliphate" the group proclaimed in 2014 over parts of Syria and Iraq.

The SDF Kurdish-Arab alliance launched an operation in September to flush out IS but their advance has been fraught with obstacles.

The push to retake Hajin was delayed by Turkish threats on Kurdish heartlands further north and deadly counter-attacks by die-hard jihadists making a bloody last stand.

"Now ISIS is confined to tunnels and to the edges of town," Abdel Rahman said.

"Fighting on the group and airstrikes are continuing. The mines planted by the militants are the main remaining obstacle," he said.

No casualty toll was immediately available for the latest fighting but according to the Observatory close to 500 SDF fighters have been killed since the start of the operation on September 10.

Around 300 civilians have also been killed, many of them in coalition airstrikes and thousands have been forced to flee their homes.

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