Daesh in Syria boxed in to shrinking pocket

A fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) looks towards the camera on January 28, 2019, in the town of Sousa, in Syria's eastern province of Deir Ezzor. Kurdish-led fighters pressed their assault against Daesh in eastern Syria Monday. (AFP)
Updated 28 January 2019

Daesh in Syria boxed in to shrinking pocket

SOUSA: Kurdish-led fighters pressed their assault against the Daesh group in eastern Syria Monday, boxing the extremists into a tiny last pocket of land along the Euphrates River.
Bad weather and reduced visibility delayed the launch of yet another push to flush out the few hundred die-hard extremists battling to defend the remnants of their once-sprawling “caliphate.”
With support from a US-led military coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces are in the final stages of an assault launched more than four months ago against the jihadists’ last bastion.
A dwindling number of Daesh fighters, led mostly by Iraqi commanders, are now defending only a handful of hamlets in the Euphrates Valley, SDF commander Heval Roni said.
“Geographically speaking, there are only four square kilometers left under Daesh control, stretching from Baghouz to the Iraqi border,” he told AFP in the Baghouz area.
“There are some high-ranking Daesh leaders among them... but we don’t know who exactly,” said Heval Roni, who heads SDF operations in the area.
The SDF is a Kurdish-led force that also includes Arab fighters from the region and which has spearheaded the fight against Daesh in Syria since it was formed in 2015.
The commander said he had no information about Daesh supremo Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who is believed to still be alive and is the world’s most wanted man.
In an interview to AFP last week, the top commander of the SDF said the battle was winding up but that his forces would need about a month to assert full control over the area and declare victory.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 1,200 extremists and around half as many SDF fighters have been killed since the start of the offensive on September 10.
The Britain-based monitoring group says more than 400 civilians have also perished, many of them killed by coalition air strikes.
The SDF has warned that perilous sweeping operations would follow the conquest of Daesh’s last fixed position in the area.
US President Donald Trump announced in December that he had ordered a complete troop withdrawal from Syria, a move that left the SDF feeling betrayed and exposed to Turkish threats.
Trump justified the decision by claiming that Daesh had been defeated, a claim described as premature by most, including by members of his own administration.
The White House’s special envoy to the fight against Daesh resigned after the announcement.
The main US partner on the ground in Syria has said that the final demise of the “caliphate” as a statehood experiment will not eliminate the threat posed by Daesh as an armed group.
“There is no end to IS as an organization. They’ve been trying to finish Al-Qaeda for 20 years and they didn’t manage. It’ll be the same with IS,” said Heval Roni, using an acronym for Daesh.


Israeli jets hit targets in Syria ‘to prevent Iranian drone attack’

Updated 36 min 3 sec ago

Israeli jets hit targets in Syria ‘to prevent Iranian drone attack’

  • The airstrike pre-empted an Iranian plan to explosives-laden attack drones into Israel, says military
  • “Iran has no immunity anywhere. If someone rises up to kill you, kill him first," says Netanyahu.

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military attacked targets near Damascus late Saturday in what it said was a successful effort to thwart an imminent Iranian drone strike on Israel, stepping up an already heightened campaign against Iranian military activity in the region.
The late-night airstrike, which triggered Syrian anti-aircraft fire, appeared to be one of the most intense attacks by Israeli forces in several years of hits on Iranian targets in Syria.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Al Quds force, working with allied Shiite militias, had been planning to send a number of explosives-laden attack drones into Israel.
Conricus said the Israeli attack took place in Aqraba, southeast of Damascus, and targeted “a number of terror targets and military facilities belonging to the Quds force as well as Shiite militias.”
He said Israel had monitored the plot for several months and on Thursday prevented Iran from making an “advanced attempt” to execute the same plan. Then, Iran tried again late Saturday to carry out the same attack, he said.
“We were able to thwart this attack with fighter jets,” he said, saying the Iranian attack was believed to be “very imminent.”
He said Israel’s chief of staff was meeting with senior officers and forces were on high alert near the Syrian frontier.
On Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the attack by Israeli warplanes a “major operational effort.”
“Iran has no immunity anywhere,” he said. “If someone rises up to kill you, kill him first.”
Israel has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria in recent years, most of them aimed at arms shipments believed to be headed from Iran to its Shiite proxy Hezbollah. Direct clashes between Israel and Iranian forces have been rare.
“This was a significant plan with significant capabilities that had been planned for a few months,” Conricus said. “It was not something done on a low level, but rather top down from the Quds Force.”
Syrian state TV announced late Saturday that the country’s air defenses had responded to “hostile” targets over Damascus and shot down incoming missiles before they reached their targets.
“At 2330 (2030 GMT) anti-aircraft defenses detected enemy targets from Golan heading toward the area around Damascus,” the state news agency SANA quoted a military official.
“The aggression was immediately confronted and so far the majority of the enemy Israeli missiles have been destroyed before reaching their targets,” the SANA report added.
“The aggression is still going on and the air defense is able to counter the targets, dropping most of them” in the south of the country, it said.
Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy and has repeatedly vowed that it will not allow Iran to establish a permanent military presence in Syria, where Iranian troops have been fighting in support of President Bashar Assad during the country’s eight-year civil war.
In recent days, US officials have said that Israeli strikes have also hit Iranian targets in Iraq.