ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched a major operation against the last remaining Islamic State (IS) pockets in Hajin in Deir al-Zour on Friday following a visit by senior coalition commanders last Thursday.
“The SDF with Coalition support started operations on Hajin town in the MERV [Middle Euphrates River Valley]. The last ISIS stronghold in Deir al-Zour and all Northern Syria through Operation Roundup. The final Defeat ISIS is near. Victory for all the Syrian people,” Kino Gabriel, the spokesperson of the SDF wrote on Twitter.
IS is not yet defeated in Syria, where it retains a presence in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, from eastern Deir al-Zour to the Iraqi border.
The launch of the operation follows a visit by top coalition commanders on Thursday, who met with SDF commander Chiya to observe the area of operations against ISIS.
“Lt. Gen. Funk and Maj. Gen. Jarrard visited Syrian Democratic Force commanders to discuss the future of the counter-Daesh mission. We remain committed to supporting our SDF partners in their relentless pursuit of the lasting defeat of Daesh,” Thomas Veale, a spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, told Kurdistan 24.
However, he could not confirm rumors of Iranian-backed militias and the Syrian regime trying to disrupt the operation in Hajin by crossing the Euphrates River, and allegedly being forced to withdraw after a response by the SDF and the US-led coalition.
“At this point, we cannot confirm a Coalition strike in Hajin today, but we continue to check the strike log, which is continuously updated,” he told Kurdistan 24.
“However, we must be clear we are not fighting the Syrian regime, and we do not seek conflict with them. We are in Syria to defeat Daesh and to set conditions for follow-on operations to increase regional stability,” he concluded.
Nicholas A. Heras, a Middle East security analyst at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, told Kurdistan 24, that the Hajin operation is a down payment by the SDF to the ‘US-led coalition in order to demonstrate that the SDF can continue to be an effective counter-ISIS force.’
“Hajin has become the center of focus for the US military as it begins to plan for a post-ISIS eastern Syria, that is to be run by and administrated through local Arabs,” he added.
“A victory for the SDF in Hajin would be a statement that despite the challenges of organizing a large-scale campaign with local Arab partners, the SDF still has an appeal to Arabs in Deir al-Zour. It’s an appeal by the SDF for funding from the United States, which could provide a stable post-ISIS space after the group has been defeated,” he concluded.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the military operation could end the presence of IS in the eastern bank of Euphrates River.
Editing by Nadia Riva