US-backed fighters launch final push to defeat Daesh in Syria

Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather in the front line village of Baghouz in the countryside of the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province, on the border with Iraq, on February 2, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2019
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US-backed fighters launch final push to defeat Daesh in Syria

  • US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces began an assault against Daesh's last enclave in eastern Syria 
  • The United States said on Jan. 29 that Daesh was expected to lose the final chunk of territory within a couple of weeks

BEIRUT: US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian forces said Saturday they have launched a final push to defeat Daesh in the last tiny pocket the extremists hold in eastern Syria.
Syrian Democratic Forces spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted that the offensive began Saturday after more than 20,000 civilians were evacuated from the Daesh-held area in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor. An SDF statement said the offensive was focused on the village of Baghouz.
The SDF, backed by US air power, has driven Daesh from large swaths of territory it once controlled in northern and eastern Syria, confining the extremists to a small pocket of land near the border with Iraq.
Scores of Daesh fighters are now besieged in a small area consisting of two villages, or less than once percent of the self-styled caliphate that once sprawled across large parts of Syria and Iraq. In recent weeks, thousands of civilians, including families of Daesh fighters, left the area controlled by the extremists.
“The decisive battle began tonight to finish what remains of Daesh terrorists,” Bali said.
US President Donald Trump predicted Wednesday that Daesh will have lost all of its territory by next week.


“It should be formally announced sometime, probably next week, that we will have 100 percent of the caliphate,” Trump told representatives of a 79-member, US-led coalition fighting Daesh.
US officials have said in recent weeks that Daesh has lost 99.5 percent of its territory and is holding on to fewer than 5 square kilometers in Syria, or less than 2 square miles, in the villages of the Middle Euphrates River Valley, where the bulk of the fighters are concentrated.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that since the SDF began its offensive against Daesh in the area on Sept. 10, some 1,279 Daesh gunmen and 678 SDF fighters have been killed. It said 401 civilians, including 144 children and teenagers, have been killed since then.
Earlier Saturday, Daesh militants attacked SDF fighters near an oil field in the country’s east, triggering airstrikes by the US-led coalition.
The Observatory said 12 Daesh gunmen attacked the SDF and clashed with them for several hours until most of the attackers were killed early Saturday. It said 10 attackers were killed, while two managed to flee.
Other activist collectives, including the Step news agency, reported the attack, saying some of the attackers used motorcycles rigged with explosives.
The fighting was concentrated near Al-Omar field, Syria’s largest.


Turkey says understands NATO concerns over Russian missile deal

Updated 19 April 2019
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Turkey says understands NATO concerns over Russian missile deal

  • The deal for Russian S-400 missiles riled Washington, prompting US officials to suspend Turkey’s participation in the US-made F-35 jet program
  • Washington says Turkey’s adoption of Russian missile technology alongside US fighter jets would not be compatible within NATO defenses

ISTANBUL: Turkey is “taking into account” NATO concerns over its Russian missile deal, the country’s foreign minister said on Friday, in more conciliatory remarks over a purchase stoking tensions between Washington and Ankara.
The deal for Russian S-400 missiles riled Washington, prompting US officials to suspend Turkey’s participation in the US-made F-35 jet program and warn of more sanctions against its NATO ally.
Washington says Turkey’s adoption of Russian missile technology alongside US fighter jets would not be compatible within NATO defenses, citing security risks.
“We are taking into account NATO’s concerns. It is not right to say Turkey is not considering them,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a press conference in Ankara.
His remarks followed a visit by Turkey’s defense minister to Washington and a meeting between US President Donald Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law at the White House, where they discussed the S-400 deal, local media reported.
“We don’t find credible the concerns that the S-400 system will allow access to the F-35 technology if they are deployed in Turkey,” the minister said.
He said Ankara was still waiting for a US response to Turkey’s proposal to set up a working group between them to work out differences over the Russian deal.
The S-400 purchase is one dispute fueling tensions between the two nations, who are also at odds over US support for Syrian Kurdish militias who Ankara brands a terrorist group and Turkish backing for US foe Venezuela.
This month, after repeated warnings, the United States said Turkey’s decision to buy the S-400 system was incompatible with it remaining part of the emblematic F-35 jet program.
Turkey had planned to buy 100 F-35A fighter jets, with pilots already training in the United States.
With Turkey in recession for the first time in a decade after a currency crisis last year, analysts say Ankara may look to avoid imposition of new US sanctions that would further damage the economy.
Last year, a trade dispute with the US prompted Washington to impose sanctions and tariffs on some Turkish goods, knocking around 30 percent off the value of the local lira currency.
Local Turkish media have reported Turkey may be considering options to ease tensions, such as the non-activation of the S-400 after delivery to Turkey, or the transfer of Russian missiles to a third country.