US-backed fighters closing in on Daesh gunmen in eastern Syria

US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) assault's overall commander Jia Furat (C) answers the press near the Omar oil field in the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province on February 16. (AFP)
Updated 16 February 2019

US-backed fighters closing in on Daesh gunmen in eastern Syria

  • President Donald Trump said the White House will make an announcement about Syria on Saturday
  • Groups said that some 200 Daesh gunmen surrendered Friday

BAGHOUZ, Syria: A US-backed force in Syria is closing in on Daesh militants in a tiny area less than a square kilometer (square mile) in eastern Syria, and will soon declare the defeat of the militant group, a commander with the group said Saturday.
The capture of the last pocket still held by Daesh fighters in the village of Baghouz would mark the end of a devastating four-year global campaign to end the extremist group’s hold on territory in Syria and Iraq — their so-called “caliphate” that at the height of the group’s power in 2014 controlled nearly a third of both Iraq and Syria.
“We will very soon bring good news to the whole world,” said Ciya Furat, a commander with the Kurdish-led force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, speaking at a news conference at the Al-Omar Oil Field Base in the Deir Ezzor province.
President Donald Trump said the White House will make an announcement about Syria and the fight against Daesh by the end of Saturday.
“We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate and that will be announced over the next 24 hours,” Trump told journalists at the White House on Friday.
An Associated Press team in Baghouz Saturday, hundreds of meters away from the last speck of land where Daesh militants were holed up, saw several aircraft overhead and two airstrikes hit the area. SDF fighters said were fired by the US-led coalition.
The Syrian Democratic Forces declared the final push to capture the village a week ago after more than 20,000 civilians, many of them the wives and families of foreign fighters, were evacuated.
Since then, SDF commanders say they have been surprised to discover that there were hundreds more civilians in the enclave, after they were brought up by the militants from underground tunnels. Their presence has slowed down the SDF advance.
Furat, the SDF commander, said Daesh fighters are now besieged in an area that is about 700 square meters (840 square yards). He said that SDF fighters were able to liberate 10 of their colleagues that were held by Daesh.
Furat’s comments were carried by Kurdish news agencies, including Hawar News.
“We are dealing with this small pocket with patience and caution. It is militarily fallen but civilians are used as human shields,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told The Associated Press. Bali added that the SDF believes that Daesh gunmen are also holding previously kidnapped Syrians in the area.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said SDF fighters are almost in full control of the area once controlled by extremists, adding that there might still be Daesh fighters hiding in a network of underground tunnels.
The Observatory said that some 200 Daesh gunmen surrendered Friday, days after about 240 others surrendered and were taken by SDF fighters and members of the US-led coalition.
“The defeat of Daesh will come within days,” Furat said. He added that after the physical defeat of Daesh, the SDF “will continue in its fight against Daesh sleepers cells.”
Despite the expected defeat on the ground, activists and residents say Daesh still has sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq and is laying the groundwork for an insurgency. The group has claimed responsibility in recent months for deadly attacks, mostly in Iraq, more than a year after the Iraqi government said the extremists have been defeated after losing the northern city of Mosul in 2017, the largest they held.

Government forces foil two Houthi attacks in Hodeida

Updated 14 min 15 sec ago

Government forces foil two Houthi attacks in Hodeida

  • Government forces responded with heavy shelling
  • Three loyalists were killed and several others were injured in the fighting

Yemeni government forces have pushed back two consecutive military attacks by Iran-backed Houthi militias in the western province of Hodeida, as the government warned of the potential collapse of the Stockholm Agreement, local media said on Wednesday.

Troops from the Joint Force, a gathering of three major military units in Hodeida including the Giants Brigades, National Resistance and Tehama Resistance, engaged in heavy fighting with the Houthis in Hodeida’s Ad-Durayhimi district.

The first Houthi attack began on Tuesday morning when rebels targeted government forces from outside Ad-Durayhimi with mortar and cannon rounds before advancing on the ground, triggering heavy clashes with loyalist forces. The clashes subsided in the afternoon when the Houthis retreated after failing to make any gains. On Tuesday night, the Houthis attacked government forces in Ad-Durayhimi again, local government media said.

Government forces responded with heavy shelling. Three loyalists were killed and several others were injured in the fighting.

The government also announced on Tuesday the downing of a Houthi explosive drone in Ad-Durayhimi. Joint Forces military commanders convened in Mocha on the Red Sea on Tuesday to discuss how to respond to Houthi assaults.

Elsewhere, government forces pushed back Houthi attacks on army locations at Al-Mahzamat in the northern province of Jawf. Loyalists also engaged in fighting with Houthis in the southern city of Taiz and Marib’s Serwah.

Stockholm Agreement

The attacks in Hodeida came as the internationally recognized government of Yemen warned that it might pull out of the Stockholm Agreement.

In New York, Yemen’s permanent representative to the UN, Abdullah Ali Al-Saadi, told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that the Stockholm Agreement had not achieved a cessation in fighting in the western province.

“It is regrettable that after more than one year, the agreement did not bring about anything. But it marked the beginning of a new level of escalation and further suffering,” he said.

The Yemeni government echoed those concerns about the threat of Houthi military activities in Hodeida and other contested areas.

At a meeting on Tuesday, the Yemeni Cabinet affirmed its support for peace efforts by the UN envoy to Yemen, and urged the international community to mount pressure on the rebels to quickly implement the agreement. 

Local rights groups say that the rebels have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Hodeida since late 2018, when the Stockholm Agreement was ratified.