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U.S.-Allied Syrian Kurds Intensify Fight Against Islamic State

Turkey's military fired artillery shells at a Kurdish militia in Syria that is backed by the United States but deemed a terrorist group by Ankara, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported
AFP/BULENT KILIC

A deadly attack on Syrian Kurdish forces launched by the Islamic State (ISIS) over the weekend has prompted the U.S.-backed fighters to step up their fight against the jihadist group, Reuters reported Monday.

“The sandstorm allowed an ISIS counterattack, which was surprising given the conditions, but now the air is clear, and the coalition will continue to increase air and fire support to assist our partners,” Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, reportedly said.

Using suicide bombers and female jihadists, ISIS carried out an attack on the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the Deir al-Zor region near the Iraqi border, killing an estimated 70 U.S.-allied fighters, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor group, reported.

The SDF claims it only lost 14 fighters.

“Rami Abdurrahman who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that since Friday ISIS has killed more than 60 SDF fighters, wounded others and captured at least 20,” the Associated Press (AP) noted. “He added that some 100 SDF fighters have fled the battlefield as the extremist group has carried out suicide car bomb attacks.”

“The death toll has increased due to the discovery of new victims on the front line and the existence of 100 wounded,” Abdurrahman acknowledged, according to the Economic Times.

“At this time, numbers cannot be confirmed as both sides are taking casualties as this difficult fight … continues,” Col. Ryan said.

An unnamed commander from the SDF, a Kurdish-Arab alliance, blamed the setback on the inexperience of the Arab forces, Reuters reported.

Col. Ryan acknowledged that the terrorist group managed to regain some of the ground it lost in eastern Syria this month.

“This battle is give and take sometimes like most military fights, and we have been saying from the beginning, this will be a difficult struggle,” the colonel told Reuters.

“ISIS is using experienced foreign fighters with nothing to lose, and the SDF will come back with coalition support and continue to degrade and destroy ISIS,” he added.

On Saturday, Brett McGurk, the White House envoy for the war against ISIS, stressed that “the military mission in Syria is the enduring defeat of ISIS,” adding that he expects the U.S.-led coalition and its allies to defeat the terrorist group over the coming months.

“It is very difficult because we are in the last stages, where almost every ISIS fighter is a suicide belt,” he declared, according to AP. “It’s very difficult fighting but we will get it done.”

Reuters pointed out that ISIS is putting up a fierce resistance as the SDF, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters, closes in on its last remaining pockets in Syria.

In response, the YPG and its female affiliate, the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), has deployed its special forces to join the offensive against ISIS in eastern Syria. “We were forced to draw on experienced fighters from the YPG and YPJ,” an unnamed SDF commander told Reuters. “They will be relied on to complete the campaign.”

The U.S.-led coalition and the SDF is engaged in efforts to push ISIS out of its last footholds in northern Syria, east of the Euphrates River. Hajin, located on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River close to the Iraqi border, is considered ISIS’ last major stronghold in Syria.

An estimated 2,000 ISIS fighters remain in the Hajin region, the Economic Times reported, citing the U.S.-led coalition.

While ISIS has killed 270 SDF fighters since September 10, the Kurdish militiamen have killed 496 jihadists during the same time frame, according to the monitor group.

On Monday, Mark Lowcock, the United Nation’s aid chief, revealed that up to 15,000 people remain within the ISIS-controlled area, adding that fighting in Hajin has displaced around 7,000 people in recent weeks.

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