SDF begins operation to drive out Daesh from Hajjin

A member of the Asayish, Kurdish internal security police forces, walks by a government forces' pick-up truck as she arrives at the site of clashes with regime forces in Qamishly, northeastern Syria, on September 8, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 11 September 2018
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SDF begins operation to drive out Daesh from Hajjin

  • The SDF had broken into Hajjin from its northwestern edge and taken control of part of the area, while opening a humanitarian corridor to allow residents to flee
  • Daesh declared a self-styled “caliphate” in 2014 across swathes of Syria and Iraq

QAMISHLI: US-backed fighters have launched a fierce assault against a dwindling pocket of territory held by Daesh in East Syria, said a commander and a war monitor.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, have been closing in for months on the town of Hajjin in eastern Deir Ezzor province.
On Monday, they began an offensive for the Daesh-held town itself.
An SDF commander said the assault, relying heavily on artillery and US-led coalition airstrikes, had killed at least 15 Daesh fighters. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said the Daesh death toll was at least 17.
“Our forces today began attacking the last bastions of Daesh in Hajjin, with intense artillery and air support,” said the SDF commander.
“The clashes will be fierce in Hajjin because Daesh has reinforced their positions, but we will take control of it,” said the commander.
The Britain-based Observatory said the SDF had been amassing fighters and equipment and beefing up their positions for weeks ahead of the attack.
“The operation to end Daesh’s presence in this pocket began today, with the heaviest airstrikes, artillery fire, and ground attacks in months by the SDF and the coalition,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
He said the SDF had broken into Hajjin from its northwestern edge and taken control of part of the area, while opening a humanitarian corridor to allow residents to flee.
Daesh declared a self-styled “caliphate” in 2014 across swathes of Syria and Iraq, but various separate offensives by the national armies of both countries, Kurdish forces and international backers have seen the extremists’ territory shrink dramatically.
In Syria, Daesh controls part of Deir Ezzor as well as some territory in the south.
The SDF, founded in October 2015, has been backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, artillery, and special forces advisers.
It ousted Daesh from swathes of Syria’s north last year, including from their main bastion Raqqa.
In Deir Ezzor, the SDF is battling Daesh on the eastern side of the Euphrates River while Syrian regime troops backed by Russia battle them west of the river.
In July, a coalition official said a few hundred IS fighters remain in the eastern pocket.
In a purported new audio recording released on August 22, Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi remained defiant.
“The caliphate will remain... and is not confined to Hajjin,” he said.


US-backed forces take positions in last Daesh enclave

Smoke rises from the last besieged Daesh enclave in Baghouz, Syria where Syrian Democratic Forces have taken positions. (Reuters)
Updated 18 March 2019
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US-backed forces take positions in last Daesh enclave

  • Smoke rose over the tiny Baghouz enclave as warplanes and artillery bombarded it
  • Daesh fighters inside Baghouz are among the group’s most hardened foreign fighters

BAGHOUZ, Syria: US-backed fighters said they had taken positions in Daesh’s last enclave in eastern Syria and air strikes pounded the tiny patch of land beside the Euphrates River early on Monday, a Reuters journalist said.
Smoke rose over the tiny enclave as warplanes and artillery bombarded it. Another witness said the militants had earlier mounted a counter attack.
“Several positions captured and an ammunition storage has been blown up,” said Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, on Twitter late on Sunday.
The enclave resembles an encampment, filled with stationary vehicles and rough shelters with blankets or tarpaulins that could be seen flapping in the wind during a lull in fighting as people walked among them.
Backed by air power and special forces from a US-led coalition, the SDF has pushed Daesh from almost the entire northeastern corner of Syria, defeating it in Raqqa in 2017 and driving it to its last enclave at Baghouz last year.
But while its defeat at Baghouz will end its control of populated land in the third of Syria and Iraq that it captured in 2014, the group will remain a threat, regional and Western officials say.
The SDF has waged a staggered assault on the enclave, pausing for long periods over recent weeks to allow surrendering fighters, their families and other civilians to pour out.
Since Jan. 9, more than 60,000 people have left the enclave, about half of them surrendering Daesh supporters including some 5,000 fighters, the SDF said on Sunday.
People leaving the area have spoken of harsh conditions inside, under coalition bombardment and with supplies of food so scarce some resorted to eating grass.
Last month, the SDF said it had found a mass grave in an area it captured.
Still, many of those who left Baghouz have vowed their allegiance to the militant group, which last week put out a propaganda film from inside the enclave calling on its supporters to keep faith.
Suicide attacks on Friday targeted families of Daesh fighters attempting to leave the enclave and surrender, killing six people, the SDF said.
Late on Sunday, the Kurdish Ronahi TV station aired footage showing a renewed assault on the enclave, with fires seen to be raging inside and tracer fire and rockets zooming into the tiny area.
The SDF and the coalition say the Daesh fighters inside Baghouz are among the group’s most hardened foreign fighters, though Western countries believe its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, has left the area.