Published: Tue, February 12, 2019
Worldwide | By Lisa Hogan

Backed Kurds launch final attack against IS in Syria

Backed Kurds launch final attack against IS in Syria

A Syrian war monitoring group and a Kurdish news agency say fierce fighting is underway between USA -backed Syrian forces and Islamic State militants around the extremists' last foothold in eastern Syria.

Meanwhile, thousands of civilians are trapped in eastern Syria.

Mustafa Bali, the head of the SDF media office, told Reuters the aim of the assault was to "eliminate the last remnants of the terrorist organisation" and called it the "last battle".

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

The source said both Turkey and the USA agreed that the process has gathered momentum.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported "heavy clashes" between both sides on the morning of February 10, as planes of the US -led coalition and artillery bombarded militant positions. Advancing SDF fighters have also faced sniper fire, vehicle bombs and landmines. The Kurdish Hawar news agency also reported heavy fighting Monday in Baghouz.

Coalition forces stood over about 20 men who were crouching on the ground.

Backed by air strikes, the SDF have driven out IS from towns and villages in north-eastern Syria in recent months.

Still, there may be between 14,000 and 18,000 IS militants scattered across Syria and in Iraq, including as many as 3,000 foreign militants, according to a recent report by the United Nations sanctions monitoring team presented to the Security Council. Trump said last week he had been told that the full territorial conquest to defeat the Islamic State could be completed in the coming week.

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 the height of their rule, the jihadists imposed their brutal interpretation of Islamic law on a territory roughly the size of Britain.

But separate military offensives in both countries, including by the SDF, have since retaken the bulk of the cross-border "caliphate" they declared in 2014.

Despite its caliphate being on the brink of collapse, IS still retains a presence in Syria's vast Badia desert and has carried out deadly attacks in SDF-held territory.

In mid-December US President Donald Trump announced that the US would withdraw from Syria.

Spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, the SDF has been the main USA partner in Syria.

USA officials have said in recent weeks that IS has lost 99.5 percent of its territory and is holding on to under 5 square kilometers (under 2 square miles), where the bulk of the fighters are concentrated in Syria.

US-led coalition warplanes struck Islamic State's last stronghold in eastern Syria and hundreds of civilians fled the besieged enclave on Monday as US-backed fighters pressed their campaign to seize it.

The clash reportedly took place in September in a hamlet IS held in eastern Syria, al-Keshma, near Baghouz.

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