ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A senior official with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Thursday confirmed the town of Hajin would soon come under the group’s control amidst huge advances this week.
“Today, the SDF liberated central Hajin from Daesh (IS) as the fight nears its conclusion,” Mustafa Bali, the head of SDF press office in northeast Syria claimed on his official Twitter account.
Similarly, the official Twitter account of the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) on Thursday announced the battle for Hajin was “almost over.”
“Hajin, the last terrorist stronghold, is on the verge of liberation. The fight against IS will continue until the last terrorist is eliminated in northeast Syria,” it stated.
It is expected the SDF will release an official statement later today.
Sean Ryan, Spokesperson for the US-led Coalition against IS, told Kurdistan 24 the SDF’s progress is ongoing.
“The progress in the MERV [Middle Euphrates Valley] is going very well and the SDF continues to advance into the center of Hajin city and to the outskirts,” he explained.
“[IS] still poses a threat despite some the withdrawal of fighters,” he warned, noting they are “using small pockets of fighters to counter SDF offensives” and placing IEDs “to slow progress.”
“The last days of [IS] in the MERV is getting closer to reality,” he concluded.
Brett McGurk, the US Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat IS, earlier this week mentioned how far SDF forces had gone into the town of Hajin.
“(…) our Syrian Democratic Force partners on the ground have pushed into the town of Hajin, which is a real one of the final strongholds of [IS], in just over the last 48 hours. So that’s a pretty significant achievement,” he said.
American and SDF officials emphasized that progress is impacted their efforts to protect the civilian population, with hundreds being rescued from IS in Hajin.
According to the report McGurk received on “what’s happening on the battlefield in that area just over the last week or so,” about 1,400 civilians have “come out, are being cared for, including by the forces that we’re working with,” he said.
Officials also raised the issue of IS using hospitals and civilian infrastructure to defend itself, including in the town of Hajin.
Additionally, the US anti-IS envoy recalled that the “battle against [IS] in the Middle Euphrates Valley” would not be over soon.
“It’s going to take time, but it will get done,” McGurk continued. “It’s a very difficult campaign.”
There are still a small number of villages under IS control near Hajin.
On Sep. 11, the SDF and US-led coalition announced the start of their operation to take Hajin, located along the banks of the Euphrates River, in addition to the surrounding villages of Baghoz, Susah, and Shafa’a. The SDF gained control of Baghoz and Susah in the final week of October.
In late October, the SDF announced it had decided to temporarily halt its campaign against the extremist group until Turkey ended its attacks on Syria’s northeast. For several days, Turkish cross-border shelling targeted the SDF-affiliated forces’ positions in Kobani and Tal Abyad.
Following intense discussions and a US announcement to set up observations posts in November, the attacks stopped. As a result, the General Command of the SDF announced on Nov. 11 that it would resume military operations against IS in the region.
“This allowed the SDF to push IS and to advance in some of the areas, after they halted their operation for some time due to Turkish attacks in the past,” Kino Gabriel, the SDF spokesperson told Kurdistan 24 in a recent interview.
So far, despite Turkish threats since Wednesday to invade the SDF-held areas near Tal Abyad and Manbij, the SDF is continuing its campaign against IS and there were no signs of Turkish cross-border attacks or shelling.
Editing by Nadia Riva