Daesh repels US-backed forces from east Syria holdout

The SDF retreated from Hajjin on the Iraqi border around seven weeks after it launched an anti-Daesh offensive backed by the US-led coalition. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 October 2018
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Daesh repels US-backed forces from east Syria holdout

  • The SDF retreated from Hajjin on the Iraqi border around seven weeks after it launched an anti-Daesh offensive backed by the US-led coalition

BEIRUT: Daesh has ousted a US-backed coalition of Kurdish and Arab forces from its holdout in eastern Syria, killing dozens of fighters, a monitoring group said Sunday.
A Syrian Democratic Forces commander, asking not to be named, confirmed the SDF retreat from the Hajin pocket near the Iraqi border seven weeks into an offensive.
The SDF, who are backed by air strikes of the US-led coalition, launched its campaign to retake the Daesh holdout on September 10.
But they have faced a fierce fightback from the extremists, including under the cover of sandstorms, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.
"In counterattacks since Friday to Sunday dawn, Daesh has taken back all positions to which the SDF had advanced inside the Hajin pocket," the monitoring group's chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The Observatory reported 72 SDF fighters killed, as Daesh took advantage of the storm that hampered coalition air cover and dispatched suicide bombers as part of their fightback.
The SDF commander told AFP that his forces had faced a "strong dust storm" and lacked local knowledge of the terrain.
Unlike Daesh, "our forces don't know the area and can't move around in conditions of zero visibility," he said.
"Military reinforcements and heavy weapons have been sent to the front and some units will be replaced by more experienced ones," the commander said.
"We will launch a new military campaign as soon as those reinforcements have arrived," he said.
More than 300 SDF fighters and around 500 Daesh extremists have been killed in the past seven weeks of fighting, the Observatory says.
The coalition estimates that 2,000 Daesh fighters remain in the Hajin area.
Daesh overran large swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a "caliphate" across land it controlled.
But the extremist group has since lost most of that territory to various offensives in both countries.
In Syria, its presence has been reduced to parts of the vast Badia desert also in the east and the Hajin pocket.
A total of more than 360,000 people have been killed since Syria's war erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.


Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

Updated 23 January 2019
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Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

  • The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict
  • Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday vowed to coordinate their actions more closely in Syria.
“Cooperation between Russia and Turkey is a touchstone for Syrian peace and stability,” Erdogan said in translated comments at a joint press conference after their talks, which lasted around three hours.
“With our Russian friends we intend to strengthen our coordination even more.”
“We agreed how we’ll coordinate our work in the near future,” Putin said, calling the talks which included the countries’ defense ministers “effective.”
At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin addressed Erdogan as “dear friend,” saying that their countries “work on issues of regional security and actively cooperate on Syria.”
Erdogan used the same term for Putin and said “our solidarity makes a weighty contribution to the security of the region.”
The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict: Russia provides critical support to the Syrian government, while Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Despite this, they have worked closely to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict.
Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria following US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month about pulling 2,000 American troops out of Syria.
Putin said that if carried out, the withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria “will be a positive step, it will help stabilize the situation in this restive area.”
Turkey has also welcomed Washington’s planned withdrawal, but the future of US-backed Kurdish militia forces labelled terrorists by Ankara has upset ties between the NATO allies.
Erdogan had said on Monday he would discuss with Putin the creation of a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria, suggested by Trump.
The US-allied Kurds, who control much of the north, have rejected the idea, fearing a Turkish offensive against territory under their control.
Putin said Wednesday that Russia supports “establishing dialogue between Damascus officials and representatives of the Kurds.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week said that Damascus must take control of the north.
The northwestern province of Idlib earlier this month fell under the full control of a jihadist group dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
The Russian foreign ministry said earlier Wednesday that the situation in the province remained of “serious concern.”
Putin said that the leaders discussed the situation in Idlib “in great detail today.”
“We have a shared conviction that we must continue jointly fighting terrorists wherever they are, including in the Idlib zone,” the Russian leader said.
Erdogan said that the countries will wage a “lengthy fight” in Syria.
Nearly eight years into Syria’s deadly conflict, the planned US pullout has led to another key step in Assad’s Russian-backed drive to reassert control.
Kurdish forces who were left exposed by Trump’s pledge to withdraw have asked the Syrian regime for help to face a threatened Turkish offensive.
The Kremlin hailed the entry by Syrian forces into the key northern city of Manbij for the first time in six years after Kurds opened the gates.
Moscow plans to organize a three-way summit with Turkey and Iran early this year as part of the Astana peace process, launched by the three countries in 2017.
Putin said Wednesday the next summit would be held “in the near future” in Russia, saying the leaders still needed to agree the time and location with Iran.
The last meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani took place in Iran in September last year with the fate of rebel-held Idlib province dominating the agenda.
Ties between Russia and Turkey plunged to their lowest level in years in November 2015 when Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane over Syria.
But after a reconciliation deal in 2016, relations have recovered at a remarkable speed with Putin and Erdogan cooperating closely over Syria, Turkey buying Russian-made air defense systems and Russia building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.