Daesh left clinging to scraps in Syria and Iraq

Iraqi forces vehicles are seen after they captured Rawa town, the last remaining town under Daesh control in Iraq on Friday, November 17, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 November 2017
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Daesh left clinging to scraps in Syria and Iraq

BEIRUT: The Iraqi Army on Friday retook the last town in the country still held by Daesh, driving another nail into the coffin of the terrorists’ dreams of statehood.
Daesh has lost 95 percent of the cross-border “caliphate” it declared in Iraq and Syria in 2014, according to the US-led coalition fighting the militants.
The group is now clinging on to just a few small pockets of territory in Iraq and Syria, a far cry from the vast stretches it controlled after rampaging across the region.
Here are the remaining Daesh holdouts:
After the loss of the small Euphrates valley town of Rawa in a lightning offensive launched by Iraqi forces at dawn Friday, scraps of desert are all that remain under Daesh control in the country.
Baghdad’s forces are waging a final push along their side of the frontier with Syria to wipe out the last remnants of Daesh territory.
The operation is the last leg of a punishing campaign that saw Iraq reclaim its second city of Mosul in July after ferocious urban combat.
The border area of Iraq’s Anbar province is dominated by a handful of powerful Sunni tribes, some of which have dispatched fighters to battle Daesh alongside government forces.
The region has been known as a hotbed of insurgency and smuggling since the US-led invasion of Iraq ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003, long before the arrival of Daesh in 2014.
Syrian regime forces are battling to capture the border town of Albu Kamal, after Daesh launched a surprise counterattack last week and snatched back its final urban holdout.
Beyond the town, Daesh controls some two dozen desert villages along the Euphrates river in the surrounding oil-rich Deir Ezzor province that once provided a major source of the group’s illicit income.
The terrorists are confronted there both by Syrian regime forces backed up by Russian air power and a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters supported by a US-led coalition.
Away from the barren frontier region, Daesh retains a presence in the Yarmuk refugee camp and the Hajjar Aswad district just south of the capital Damascus, where the group is battling other terrorists and pro-regime forces.
In the central region of Homs, Daesh is being squeezed by troops loyal to President Bashar Assad and their Russian backers as it struggles to maintain its grip on a few small areas.
To the south in Daraa province on the border with Jordan an affiliated group called Jaish Khaled Bin Walid is mainly battling rebel groups.
Meanwhile, shelling by the Syrian regime on the opposition-held area of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus Friday killed at least 10 civilians, among them six children, a monitor said.
The deaths were the result of the latest bout in an escalating cycle of tit-for-tat attacks between regime forces and the opposition fighters holding the enclave on the Syrian capital’s eastern outskirts.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a total of 43 civilians have been killed in the process, most of them in Eastern Ghouta, which has been besieged since 2013 and where humanitarian conditions are dire.
Seven people, including five children, were killed in regime shelling and airstrikes in Douma, the main town in the Eastern Ghouta area, observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Elsewhere in Eastern Ghouta, another child was killed in Harasta, he said, adding that two members of the White Helmets rescue organization were also among Friday’s victims.
On Tuesday, the Ahrar Al-Sham group, which has positions in Harasta, launched an attack on a regime military base in the area, which is supposed to be a so-called “de-escalation zone” as part of a deal agreed between Russia, Iran and Turkey to bring violence levels down.
The fighting on that front has left at least 37 dead on the regime side, according to the observatory, a toll the regime has not confirmed. Abdel Rahman said “dozens” of hard-line fighters were also killed.
In retaliation for the latest deadly Ghouta shelling, opposition fighters fired rockets on Damascus, killing three civilians Friday, the same source said. Six had been killed the previous day, including Syria’s national karate coach Fadel Fadi, who died of his wounds after being struck by shrapnel as he left his Damascus sports club, the state-run Sana agency said.


US envoy: Fight against Daesh in last Syria stronghold may end soon

Updated 15 November 2018
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US envoy: Fight against Daesh in last Syria stronghold may end soon

  • James Jeffrey: Washington keen to establish constitutional committee by end of the year

WASHINGTON: The administration of US President Donald Trump hopes that the US-backed fight against Daesh in its last foothold in northeastern Syria will end within months but American forces will remain to ensure the “enduring defeat” of the militant group, a top US diplomat said on Wednesday.

Ambassador James Jeffrey, the US special representative for Syrian engagement, said the US believes the way forward in Syria includes defeating Daesh, reinvigorating the political process and winding down the long-running civil war.

Toward that end, he said, the US hopes to see the formation of a committee before the end of the year to work on a new constitution for Syria as agreed by the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Turkey during their meeting in Istanbul in October.

He said US forces would remain in place after the coalition forces prevail over Daesh military units to ensure the group does not “regenerate itself.”

“The enduring defeat means not simply smashing the last of Daesh’s (Daesh) conventional military units holding terrain, but ensuring that Daesh doesn’t immediately come back in sleeper cells, come back as an insurgent movement,” Jeffrey said.

Washington also wants the withdrawal of Iranian military forces from Syria once the underlying causes of the conflict have been resolved, he said, noting that Iran’s continued military presence would represent a threat to US partners in the region.

Jeffrey said the final ground combat is along the Euphrates River and is being led by Syrian Democratic Forces assisted by US military personnel.

“The fight is continuing and we hope that it will be over in a few months and that will be the last of Daesh’s terrain that it holds in a quasi-conventional way,” he said.

Jeffrey said convening a committee under UN auspices to begin work on a new Syrian constitution was a “critical step” toward advancing the political process. 

He said the US would hold Russia to account to use its influence to bring the regime of its ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, to the negotiating table.

“Our goal, which again was supported by Russia, France, Germany and Turkey and agreed in the Oct. 27 Istanbul communique, is to establish this constitutional committee by the end of the year,” he said.

Jeffrey said getting Iranian forces out of Syria, where they back Assad’s rule, was not a US military goal but should be an outcome of the process to end the civil war and the only way to achieve lasting peace.

He said newly reinstated US sanctions against Iran would encourage Tehran to scale back its presence in Syria.