HASAKA, Syrian Kurdistan,—Military operations against the Islamic State group in Syria are wrapping up and the last pocket of the jihadists’ “caliphate” will be flushed out within a month, a top commander said.
“The operation of our forces against IS in its last pocket has reached its end and IS fighters are now surrounded in one area,” Mazloum Kobani, the chief of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, told AFP.
With backing from the US-led coalition, the SDF are in the last phase of an operation started on September 10 to defeat the jihadists in the Euphrates Valley in eastern Syria.
“We need a month to eliminate IS remnants still in the area,” said Kobani, who spoke to AFP on Thursday near the northeastern Syrian city of Hasaka.
A few hundred IS fighters are defending a handful of hamlets near the Iraqi border, the last rump of a “caliphate” which the jihadist organisation proclaimed in 2014 and once covered territory the size of Britain.
“I believe that during the next month we will officially announce the end of the military presence on the ground of the so-called caliphate,” Kobani said.
Intense fighting in the area known as “the Hajin pocket” has left hundreds of fighters dead on both sides, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.
IS lost the town of Hajin late last year and the subsequent collapse of its defences saw the Kurdish-led SDF conquer one village after another.
Kobani said their battle had been complicated by the jihadist group’s shifting strategy after the fall of their de-facto Syrian capital of Raqa in 2017.
New tactics include “sleeper cells everywhere, secretly recruiting people again, and carrying out suicide operations, bombings, and assassinations”, he said.
“We expect there will be an increase in the intensity of IS operations against our forces after the end of their military presence,” Kobani said.
IS has retained a presence in Syria’s vast Badia desert and has claimed a series of attacks in SDF-held territory.
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).
President Donald Trump abruptly announced the pullout from Syria.
The Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party PYD 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.
Syrian Kurds on December 30, 2016 have approved a blueprint for a system of federal government in Syrian Kurdistan, reaffirming their plans for autonomy in areas they have controlled during the civil war.
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