U.S.-backed Syrian forces battle to take last ISIL pocket
CGTN

Syrian fighters backed by artillery fire from a U.S.- led coalition battled a fierce militant fightback on Monday as they pushed to retake a last morsel of territory from the ISIL group.

Mushrooming black clouds rose over the embattled militant holdout in eastern Syria, as missiles and a warplane streaked through the sky.

More than four years after the extremists declared a "caliphate" across large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq, several offensives have whittled that proto-state down to a tiny holdout.

Civilians fleeing the battered ISIL-held holdout of Baghouz in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor sit in the back of a truck, February 11, 2019. /VCG Photo

Civilians fleeing the battered ISIL-held holdout of Baghouz in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor sit in the back of a truck, February 11, 2019. /VCG Photo

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Saturday announced the final push to expel hundreds of diehard militants from that patch on the Iraq border.

The U.S.-led coalition maintained a steady beat of bombings on the last ISIL pocket on Monday after an early morning ISIL counterattack caused several SDF casualties.

"ISIL launched a counterattack on our forces and we are now responding with rockets, air strikes, and direct clashes," SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told AFP.

The sound of bombs echoed dozens of kilometers (miles) away and columns of dark grey smoke could be seen from SDF territory.

Bali said there were "dozens of SDF hostages held by ISIL" inside their last foothold, but denied reports of executions.

A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) walks past shops with their fronts painted with the Arabic phrases "beware a sniper" and "caliphate state," in the city of Hajin in Syria's eastern Deir Ezzor Province, January 27, 2019. /VCG Photo

A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) walks past shops with their fronts painted with the Arabic phrases "beware a sniper" and "caliphate state," in the city of Hajin in Syria's eastern Deir Ezzor Province, January 27, 2019. /VCG Photo

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters had pressed on Monday morning in the face of tough obstacles.

"The SDF are advancing slowly in what remains of the ISIL pocket" on the edges of the village of Baghouz, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

But landmines, ISIL snipers, and tunnels the extremists have dug out for their defense are hindering the advance, he said.

(Top image: Syrian Democratic Forces fighters stand guard as a convoy of truck transports civilians fleeing the battered ISIL-held holdout of Baghouz in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, February 11, 2019. /VCG Photo)

Source(s): AFP