The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), reportedly took back the last town held by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) on Friday, further cementing the complete fall of the group’s so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
Nevertheless, the U.S.-led coalition stressed that its mission remains focused on ensuring ISIS’s “enduring defeat.”
“The Coalition mission in northeast Syria remains unchanged. We continue our normal operations, including observation posts in the border region to address the security concerns of our NATO ally Turkey. We remain committed to working with our partners on the ground to ensure an enduring defeat of ISIS. Any reports indicating a change in the U.S. position with respect to these efforts is false and designed to sow confusion and chaos,” the U.S.-led alliance declared in a statement sent out to reporters via email Friday.
Before the offensive, ISIS controlled one percent of the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, according to the U.S. government.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a monitor group that uses ground sources to keep tabs on the conflict, reports that U.S.-backed SDF fighters have “completely” expelled the Islamic State, also known as IS, from Hajin.
“Europe-based activist Omar Abu Layla of the DeirEzzor 24 monitoring group [also] confirmed that the town was taken, adding that some IS fighters are still holed up in small pockets on the edge of Hajin. Aby Layla said that in IS ranks, disagreements over hierarchy and posts between Iraqi and Syrian fighters helped ‘speed up the collapse’ of IS defenses in Hajin,” the Associated Press (AP) further adds.
The Observatory acknowledges that Hajin “is considered the main and largest stronghold of the ‘Islamic State’ organization in its last remaining enclave” located in northern Syria’s Deir Ezzor province, east of the Euphrates River.
Hajin’s fall came after “violent clashes and successive attacks, intense and violent air and ground strikes by [U.S.-led] coalition Forces,” SOHR learned from its sources on the ground.
The SDF forced ISIS “to retreat into the land surrounding the town and [into] the residential areas near Hajin,” the Observatory reveals, adding that ISIS “withdrew towards the eastern outskirts of Hajin” where the group’s “existence is limited to the eastern areas of the town and in tunnels.”
Clashes are ongoing in the fields outside Hajin as the U.S.-backed Kurdish militiamen chase the jihadists, the Observatory says.
“Intense fighting” is still ongoing in small parts of Hajin, Nuri Mehmud, a YPG spokesman, told AP. The YPG leads and makes up the majority of the SDF.
Since September 10, SDF fighters backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have killed 922 ISIS jihadis in and around the group’s last enclave, the Observatory notes. The SDF reportedly lost 539 fighters during the same period.
The Observatory also documented 324 civilian deaths, including 113 children and 72 women.
With the support of the U.S.-led coalition, the Kurdish-Arab SDF alliance has squeezed ISIS into small pockets of territory in Syria along the country’s border with Iraq.
ISIS had managed to hold on to the town of Hajin and the villages nearby for over a year.
Citing activists, AP reports:
The fall of Hajin is a blow to the extremists. The town was their main stronghold in the last pocket of land they control in eastern Syria, near the Iraqi border. IS still holds some villages nearby. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been fighting to take Hajin and the surrounding villages in Deir el-Zour province for over three months. In the past weeks, the offensive intensified with the arrival of reinforcements from northern Syria.
Before the SDF pushing ISIS out of the last town under its control, the Pentagon’s inspector general and the U.S. State Department reported that the group only controls one percent of the territory it once held. Nevertheless, the U.S. government warns that the terrorist group’s “clandestine cells” remain a threat, adding that ISIS still has a couple of thousand jihadis.
“ISIS has lost all territory it held in Iraq and remained in control of only one percent of [the] territory it once held in Syria,” the Pentagon IG reports. “However, the [U.S. Department of Defense] and a report produced by a United Nations Security Council monitoring committee stated that an effective clandestine ISIS organization has moved underground and is acting as an insurgency in both countries.”
The fall of Hajin came days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan again threatened to push into Syrian Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria, a move that the U.S. and SDF have said will interrupt the campaign against ISIS.
Pentagon officials have warned Turkey against its planned offensive into northern Syria.
Turkey and some U.S. officials argue that the YPG is an affiliate of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) terrorist group.
Nevertheless, the U.S. continues to support the Kurds, stressing that they are the most effective fighters against ISIS on the ground. With the help of the United States, the YPG has managed to maintain control of large swathes of territory in northern Syria along the country’s border with Turkey.