ISIS Militants Fight to Hold Onto Final Foothold in Eastern Syria

Charlene Craig
February 12, 2019

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Saturday announced the final push to expel hundreds of diehard jihadists from their last patch of territory in eastern Syria on the Iraq border.

The SDF launched an offensive to expel ISIS, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, from the eastern province of Deir Ezzor in September previous year.

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.

A top USA general said last week Islamic State would pose an enduring threat following the US withdrawal, as it still has leaders, fighters, facilitators and resources.

As the operation enters its final stages, fleeing ISIS militants have been caught attempting to sneak past SDF checkpoints by any means possible.

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The fighting is expected to be over within days, Mr Bali said.

The U.S. -backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been on a crushing offensive to root out the IS from the eastern Euphrates region since last September.

What's hanging the balance, and of concern for United States officials, is the unresolved fate of the Kurds who are now looking down the barrels of the Turkish army and the head-chopping knives of their jihadi "rebel" allies on the ground, poised to invade formerly US-occupied space in Syria.

US President Donald Trump predicted Wednesday that the Islamic State group will by next week lose all the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria.

"After the defeat of ISIS we can not say that the roots of violence and terrorism are over, as ISIS is an ideological status and not only a military structure", Assaad Bechara, political analyst and editor of Lebanon's Al-Joumhouria newspaper, told The Associated Press on Monday. And foreign fighters continue to arrive, undeterred - an estimated 50 per month.

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"At this point it doesn't really matter what they say because, we know where they are".

The armed group overran large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, but a series of military offensives have reduced that territory to just Baghouz. But the president's decision to withdraw troops has prompted backlash from members of his own party and intelligence team. But activists and residents say IS still has sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq, and is laying the groundwork for an insurgency.

Syria's Kurds have played a major role in fighting ISIS in war-torn Syria, gaining much of the territory once held by the radical group in energy-rich eastern Syria.

Syria's war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

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

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Trump's decision to withdraw USA troops has left Syria's Kurds scrambling for safeguards.

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