News and Commentary

U.S.-Backed Militia Takes Largest Remaining Town Held By ISIS In Syria

On Friday, U.S.-backed militia captured the largest remaining town held by ISIS in Syria. That news was confirmed by the DeirEzzor 24 monitoring group.

The Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fought a violent battle for the city of Hajin, which lies east of the Euphrates River, in the process killing at least 900 ISIS fighters, according to Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Rahman also stated that 500 SDF fighters were killed.

On Thursday, SDF commander-in-chief Mazloum Kobani said there were at least 5,000 fighters loyal to ISIS still in Syria who had vowed to fight to the death.

The Daily Mail reported 17,000 troops from SDF started their efforts in September to take Hajin and the surrounding villages in Deir el-Zour province, but that the effort was delayed by Turkish threats on Kurdish territory. The Mail also stated that ISIS “has a presence in Syria’s vast Badia desert, a front which is managed by Russian-backed government forces.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the SDF was aided with the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, and that there was still fighting in the fields outside the town, according to Fox News. Omar Abu Layla of DeirEzzor 24 stated that internecine arguments among ISIS fighters expedited the success of the U.S. backed militia.

Hajin became the capital city for ISIS in November 2017 after ISIS had retreated from Raqqa, Mayadin, Al-Qa’im, and Abu Kamal. SDF first reached Hajin in December 2017. In 2018, suspicions arose that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was hiding in Hajin. In March 2018, SDF stopped battling ISIS in Hajin because they had to defend Afrin from the Turkish army, but by late June, coalition forces led by the U.S. started dropping leaflets on Hajin. In August ISIS launched a counterattack but it failed. SDF resumed its attack on Hajin, with U.S. support, on September 11; on December 4 SDF entered the town.

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened YPG, the chief arm of SDF, saying of a supposed promise the U.S. made to keep YPG east of the Euphrates River, “If you don’t take them out, we will also enter Manbij.” American troops are stationed in Manbij.

Fox News reported that in the summer of 2018, the U.S. and Turkey had created a “road map” for Manbij to remove YPG; Turkey calls YPG a terror organization. On Thursday, YPG leader Mazloum Kobani, who had met with the top U.S. diplomat for Syria, James Jeffrey, told Reuters that the U.S. had made “serious attempts” to stop a Turkish offensive against Kurdish fighters. He added, “We are ready for any attack and will respond strongly…within our areas. Till now, our diplomatic attempts are ongoing to deter this … (Jeffrey) knows well that Turkish attacks will make the fight against Daesh (ISIS) fail and all the work between us will go to waste.”

Earlier this week, President Trump stated, ‘We’ve done a very, very major job on ISIS. There are very few of them left in that area of the world. And within another 30 days, there won’t be any of them left.”