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Syrian Kurdish fighters advance in clashes with Islamic State: official

Syrian Kurdish fighters advance in clashes with Islamic State: official

2019/02/11 | 14:25

(Hatha al-Youm | Iraq News)- Syrian Kurdish-led Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters sit on a vehicle in the north of Raqqa city, Syria, February 5, 2017. Photo: Reuters

BEIRUT,— The U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have seized ground from Islamic State in a fierce battle to capture its last enclave in eastern Syria, an SDF official said on Sunday.

The SDF, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, began the assault on Saturday, seeking to wipe out the last remnants of the jihadist group’s “caliphate” in the SDF’s area of operations in eastern and northern Syria.

The enclave is close to the Iraqi border and comprises two villages. Islamic State (IS) also still retains territory in the part of Syria that is mostly under the control of the Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian government.











The Kurdish SDF fighters had so far seized 41 positions but had faced counter attacks early on Sunday that had been repelled, Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, told Reuters.

“The clashes are ferocious naturally because the terrorist group is defending its last stronghold.”

President Donald Trump, who is planning to pull U.S. forces out of Syria, said on Wednesday he expected a formal announcement as early as this week that the coalition had reclaimed all the territory previously held by Islamic State.

Bali said 400 to 600 jihadists were estimated to be holed up in the enclave, including foreigners and other hardened fighters.

Between 500 to 1,000 civilians are also estimated to be inside, Bali said. More than 20,000 civilians were evacuated in the 10 days leading up to Saturday, he said.

“If we can, in a short time frame, get the (remaining) civilians out or isolate them, I believe that the coming few days will witness the military end of the terrorist organization in this area,” Bali said.

Senior SDF official Redur Xelil told Reuters on Saturday the force hoped to capture the area by the end of February, but cautioned that IS would continue to pose “great and serious” security threats even after that.

IS redrew the map of the Middle East in 2014 when it declared a caliphate across large areas of Syria and Iraq. But it steadily lost ground and its two main prizes – the Syrian city of Raqqa and Iraq’s Mosul – fell in 2017.

Spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, the SDF has been the main U.S. partner in Syria.

A top U.S. general said last week Islamic State would pose an enduring threat following the U.S. withdrawal, as it still has leaders, fighters, facilitators and resources.

Washington has for years supported the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria, as part of an international anti-jihadist coalition dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). But U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly announced the pullout from Syria.

The Kurdish Democratic Union Party PYD of Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) and its powerful military wing YPG/YPJ, considered the most effective fighting force against IS in Syria and U.S. has provided them with arms. The YPG, which is the backbone of the SDF forces, has seized swathes of Syria from Islamic State.

In 2013, the PYD — the political branch of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — has established three autonomous Cantons of Jazeera, Kobani and Afrin and a Kurdish government across Syrian Kurdistan in 2013. On March 17, 2016, Kurdish authorities announced the creation of a “federal region” made up of those semi-autonomous regions in Syrian Kurdistan.

Copyright © 2019, respective author or news agency, Reuters | Ekurd.net

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