Vastavam web: U.S.-backed Syrian forces launched an assault against the final Islamic State enclave in eastern Syria on Sunday, aiming to wipe out the last vestige of its self-declared “caliphate” that once spanned a third of Iraq and Syria. While the Baghouz enclave represents the last shred of populated land held by the jihadists, the group is still widely seen as a big security threat operating in remote territory elsewhere and able to launch guerrilla attacks.
Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, said no further civilians had emerged from the enclave at the Iraqi border since Saturday and the SDF had not observed any more civilians in the area, prompting the decision to attack.“The military operations have started. Our forces are now clashing with the terrorists and the attack started,” he told. But the SDF has also said the most hardened foreign jihadists are still holed up inside, ready to fight to the end.
In a post on Twitter, Bali said the attack had started at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT). Air strikes had targeted Islamic State weapons stores. “Direct and fierce” clashes were underway, he added. Islamic State has been driven from the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq by an array of enemies, including forces backed by Russia, Iran and Turkey in addition to the United States. The SDF, spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, has been the main U.S. partner in Syria and has steadily driven the group down the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, forcing its fighters and followers to fall back to Baghouz.
Earlier on Sunday, a Reuters journalist in SDF-held ground observed Islamic State fighters moving around in the part of Baghouz still under their control.