ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on Wednesday claimed the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are getting close to defeating the Islamic State in the countryside of Deir al-Zor.
“The SDF managed to achieve an important and strategic advancement in the area, through advancing into and taking the control of about the half of Al-Baghuz Foqani town, which is the last town left under the control of the “Islamic State” organization in Syria,” the SOHR said.
Ranya Mohammed, a Syrian Kurdish journalist, also tweeted that SDF fighters have reached the town of Baghuz and that many Islamic State families had fled to SDF-held areas.
Currently, the jihadist group holds only about 10 square kilometers in that region. According to some sources, morale among the remaining Islamic State fighters is at an all-time low with many surrendering to the Kurdish-led SDF.
“The rest of ISIS members who are still in an enclave east of the Euphrates refuse to surrender,” as “hundreds” of their members have surrendered to the SDF “in the past 24 hours,” the monitor group asserted.
According to Hawar News Agency (ANHA), some 60 Islamic State fighters have handed themselves over to the SDF in the past few days.
“A large group of ISIS families are handing themselves over to,” the SDF, the official account of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) tweeted on Wednesday. “They are from several countries,” the account noted, including Pakistan, France, Iraq, and Turkey.
It’s unclear what a territorial defeat of the Islamic State in Syria will mean regarding a potential US withdrawal and the ongoing risk of sleeper cells resuming their activities.
Former US special presidential envoy, Brett McGurk, in an interview with CBS News on Monday warned that a US withdrawal could lead to a resurgence of the group.
“We have taken away a lot of their physical space but we always said and our policy was, until most recently, we had to make sure that we completed the enduring defeat of ISIS,” he said.
“What that meant was taking away their physical space and retaining a presence so they could not resurge.”
According to Nicholas A. Heras, a Middle East security analyst at the Center for a New American Security, “the SDF‘s work is not yet finished as the coalition expects its allies on the ground to remain and prevent the reemergence of the Islamic State. However, the question now being posed is what type of US presence is deemed enough to “oversee the immediate post-ISIS phase,” he asked.
“It will likely be months before there is a big US drawdown in the MERV [Middle Euphrates River Valley],” he added.
Syrian Kurds, nevertheless, have expressed doubts regarding the statements coming from Washington.
“Syrian Kurds and allies are deeply confused about conflicting and unclear statements coming from Washington in terms of the withdrawal and future of the US in Syria, and in terms of safe zone,” Washington-based Kurdish Affairs analyst, Mutlu Civiroglu, told Kurdistan 24.
“But something that is clear to the Kurds is that they do not want Turkey in their land and they are negotiating with the Syrian government and Russia to prepare for a possible Turkish occupation,” he explained, or “Turkey setting up a safe zone.”
Civiroglu also mentioned that for the Kurds, a safe zone “under US or UN supervision” would be something “different and acceptable.”
Editing by Nadia Riva