Published: Tue, February 12, 2019
Worldwide | By Stella Potter

Backed forces advance in fierce clashes with ISIL in Syria

Backed forces advance in fierce clashes with ISIL in Syria

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said Saturday it had begun the "final battle" to oust the Islamic State group from the last scrap of territory it holds in eastern Syria.

President Donald Trump, who is planning to pull USA forces out of Syria, said on Wednesday he expected an announcement as early as next week that the US -led coalition operating in support of the SDF had reclaimed all the territory previously held by the jihadist group.

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said "dozens" of his fighters were held hostage by ISIS in Baghouz, with the risk of their execution complicating the advance.

Earlier this week, SDF officials said they believed there are 1,500 civilians in the town and 500 ISIS fighters.

The top Pentagon general in charge of American troops in the Middle East suggested Monday that the implementation of US President Donald Trump's order to withdraw troops from Syria could start within weeks.

On Monday, dozens of coalition and SDF fighters were stationed at a screening point for new arrivals from IS areas.

However, he emphasised the group would continue to operate in Iraq by setting up sleeper cells. On Wednesday, the Senate voted to include a nonbinding amendment in a foreign policy bill that condemned the "precipitous" withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan, where Trump is also seeking to downsize USA military presence.

Most of the dozen or so attackers were killed and two managed to escape after a battle lasting several hours, during which USA airstrikes were called in, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. Shanahan said Monday he plans to discuss the situation this week with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies, including support and security operations that he says are important when shifting away from a significant military operation.

The SDF managed, with the help of the United States, to defeat the IS in much of the eastern Euphrates region.

The YPG fighter, who did not wish to be named, said spotting ISIS militants hidden among the thousands of fleeing civilians is proving hard.

At sunrise on Sunday, US-led coalition airstrikes pummeled the western part of Baghouz Al-Fawqani, sending dark columns of smoke into the sky.

Civilians who have fled fighting in Baghuz wait to board trucks after being screened by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

"In conclusion, we are at the onset of a longer fight against ISIS which will require deep coordination, unity, and preparedness".

That's according to a Sunday report by Martin Chulov in the Guardian, which says the secretive leader known as "Caliph Ibrahim" had to fend off a two-day internal assault in September, by foreign fighters within his group who were eager to overthrow him.

"This battle will be sealed in the coming days", he said.

A battle has been going on for hours, with US-led coalition air strikes and artillery fire pounding IS positions.

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