Syria Kurdish-led force launches new anti-Daesh campaign

A Syrian Democratic Forces stands fighter next to the SDF’s unfurled flag while on watch duty in the in the desert hamlet of Baghouz near the Iraqi border on March 24, 2019, a day after Daesh was declared defeated. (AFP)
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Updated 05 June 2020

Syria Kurdish-led force launches new anti-Daesh campaign

  • Operations will focus on the vast east Syria desert near the border with Iraq

BEIRUT: US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria announced Friday a fresh campaign to hunt down remnants of the Daesh group near the Iraqi border following a recent uptick in attacks.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led paramilitary alliance that has spearheaded the ground fight against Daesh in Syria since 2015, said that the new campaign is being carried out in coordination with the Iraqi army and the US-led coalition.
“This campaign will target ISIS’s hideouts and hotbeds,” it said, using a different acronym for the militant group.
It said operations will focus on the vast east Syria desert near the border with Iraq where Daesh has conducted a spate of attacks in recent months.
Since the loss of its last territory in Syria in March 2019, Daesh attacks have been restricted to the vast desert that stretches from the heavily populated Orontes valley in the west all the way to Iraqi border.
It regularly targets SDF forces and has vowed to seek revenge for the defeat of its so-called “caliphate”.
The SDF, with backing from its coalition allies, launched a campaign to hunt down sleeper cells after it forced Daesh militants out of their last Syrian redoubt in the desert hamlet of Baghouz in March 2019.
A raid in October by US special forces killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant group which once controlled large swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria.
Last month, the United Nations accused the Daesh group and others in Syria of exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to step up violence on civilians, describing the situation as a “ticking time-bomb”.
Across the border in Iraq, Daesh has exploited a coronavirus lockdown, coalition troop withdrawals and simmering political disputes to ramp up attacks.
Iraq declared Daesh defeated in late 2017 but sleeper cells have survived in remote northern and western areas, where security gaps mean the group wages occasional attacks.
They have spiked since early April as militants plant explosives, shoot up police patrols and launch mortar and rocket fire at villages.


Egypt’s El-Sisi meets Libyan tribesmen after eastern call to intervene

Updated 12 sec ago

Egypt’s El-Sisi meets Libyan tribesmen after eastern call to intervene

CAIRO: Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi met mainly eastern Libyan tribesmen in a show of solidarity on Thursday, days after Libya’s eastern-based parliament urged Cairo to intervene in their country’s civil war.
The meeting reflects the growing regional stakes in Libya, divided since 2014 between areas held by the government in Tripoli, backed by Turkey, and a rival eastern administration, backed by the UAE, Russia and Egypt.
On Tuesday, the eastern-based parliament allied to commander Haftar Khalifa called for Egypt to help counter Turkish support for Libya’s internationally recognized government in Tripoli.
Turkey has helped the Tripoli administration force Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) to abandon an offensive on Tripoli.
Any major escalation could risk igniting a direct conflict in Libya among the foreign powers that have already poured in weapons and fighters in violation of an arms embargo.
In response to Turkish actions, El-Sisi last month warned that Egypt’s army might enter Libya if the Tripoli government and its Turkish allies renewed an assault on Sirte, a central coastal city seen as the gateway to Libya’s main oil export terminals.
Libyan tribal leaders flew on Wednesday to Cairo from the eastern city of Benghazi, the main LNA base, for a meeting with El-Sisi entitled “Egypt and Libya, one people, one fate.” Haftar enjoys the backing of tribes mainly from east but also former LNA strongholds like Tarhouna in western Libya.
On the flight some tribesmen were chanting “El-Sisi” and “Haftar,” a video posted online showed.
El-Sisi said at the meeting Egypt’s main goal in Libya was to “activate the free will of the Libyan people,” a presidency statement said. It also published pictures showing El-Sisi sitting next to tribal leaders, all wearing masks against coronavirus.
In June El-Sisi said Egypt could act militarily in Egypt either if the House of Representatives requested this, or simply based on the UN charter of a right of self-defense.
Eastern tribes and other factions allied to Haftar have also been involved in closure of oil ports since January. The LNA says the tribes act on their own but analysts say their activity in Haftar-controlled territory is coordinated with the LNA.
Sirte is held by the LNA and the last major western city before the historic dividing line with the east, now controlled by Haftar, two regions that were united with the south at Libya’s independence in 1951.