U.S.-backed forces advance in fierce clashes with ISIL in Syria
CGTN

Fighters from the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have seized ground from ISIL in a fierce battle to oust the latter from its last remaining enclave in eastern Syria, according to an SDF official on Sunday.

The SDF, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, began the assault on Saturday, seeking to wipe out the last remnants of the jihadist group's "caliphate" in the SDF's area of operations in eastern and northern Syria.

The enclave is close to the Iraqi border and comprises two villages. ISIL still retains territory in the part of Syria that is mostly under the control of the Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian government.

So far, the SDF fighters had seized 41 positions but had faced counter attacks early on Sunday that had been repelled, said Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) occupy a building near the front line in Bagouz, February 10, 2019. /VCG Photo

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) occupy a building near the front line in Bagouz, February 10, 2019. /VCG Photo

"The clashes are ferocious naturally because the terrorist group is defending its last stronghold," said Bali.

The ISIL militants were said to retaliate with heart-seeking missiles, which hit one SDF vehicle, bringing two soldiers dead and several injured. 

President Donald Trump, who is planning to pull U.S. forces out of Syria, said on Wednesday he expected a formal announcement as early as this week that the coalition had reclaimed all the territory previously held by ISIL.

A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) armored vehicle drives through destroyed streets near the frontline in Bagouz, February 10, 2019. /VCG Photo

A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) armored vehicle drives through destroyed streets near the frontline in Bagouz, February 10, 2019. /VCG Photo

Bali said 400 to 600 jihadists were estimated to be holed up in the four-square-kilometer enclave, including foreigners and other hardened fighters.

It's estimated that between 500 and 1,000 civilians are inside, Bali said. More than 20,000 civilians were evacuated in the ten days leading up to Saturday, he said.

"If we can, in a short time frame, get the (remaining) civilians out or isolate them, I believe that the coming few days will witness the military end of the terrorist organization in this area," Bali said.

People walk through destroyed buildings on the outskirts of Bagouz, February 10, 2019. /VCG Photo

People walk through destroyed buildings on the outskirts of Bagouz, February 10, 2019. /VCG Photo

Senior SDF official Redur Xelil said on Saturday the force hoped to capture the area by the end of February, but cautioned that ISIL would continue to pose "great and serious" security threats even after that.

ISIL redrew the map of the Middle East in 2014 when it declared a caliphate across large areas of Syria and Iraq. But it steadily lost ground and its two main prizes – the Syrian city of Raqqa and Iraq's Mosul – fell in 2017.

A top U.S. general said last week ISIL would pose an enduring threat following the U.S. withdrawal, as it still has leaders, fighters, facilitators and resources.

Source(s): Reuters