Iraqi airstrikes hit IS in east Syria: monitor

Iraqi airstrikes hit IS in east Syria: monitor
Iraqi air raids in Syria's eastern Baghouz killed dozens of Islamic State militants on Saturday.
3 min read
19 January, 2019
Iraq has stepped up its airstrikes against IS in Syria in recent months [Getty]
At least 20 Islamic State group jihadists were killed in Iraqi air raids on the militants’ embattled enclave in eastern Syria, a war monitor reported on Saturday.

There were no immediate comments from the Iraqi army or from the US-led coalition battling the militants in the region.

Baghouz is part of an enclave of less than 15 square kilometres (less than six square miles) that is all that is left of IS territory in eastern Syria after a gruelling Kurdish-led offensive launched with coalition support.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that Saturday's airstrikes "carried out by Iraqi aircraft killed at least 20 IS fighters in Baghouz".

He said at the same time the Iraqi army units stationed nearby on the border with Syria fired artillery.

The raids come a day after a US-led airstrike on the Euphrates Valley village of Baghouz killed six civilians, including four children, and 10 IS fighters, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Abdel Rahman said the US-led coalition had stepped up its airstrikes against IS since the jihadists killed 19 people, four of them Americans, in a suicide bombing on a restaurant in the flashpoint northern town of Manbij on Wednesday.

"The strikes are continuing, and have intensified since the Manbij attack," he said on Saturday.

"Residential buildings in Barghouz were hit," he said.

Wednesday's US losses were the biggest since Washington deployed troops in Syria in 2014 in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Previously it had reported just two combat losses in separate incidents.

The Manbij bombing rekindled controversy triggered by President Donald Trump last month with his surprise announcement of a full withdrawal from Syria.

The US president justified the order with the assertion that the jihadists had now been "largely defeated" in Syria, a claim that the attack threw into renewed question.

Saturday’s airstrikes came after the official formerly in charge of fighting the jihadists warned Trump’s plans to withdraw troops was made without deliberation, left allies "bewildered" and has rejuvenated the Islamic State group.

Brett McGurk, who quit as America's envoy to the anti-IS coalition after Trump declared victory over the group last month, warned a US withdrawal would shore up President Bashar al-Assad and lessen America's leverage with Russia and Iran.

And "the Islamic State and other extremist groups will fill the void opened by our departure, regenerating their capacity to threaten our friends in Europe - as they did throughout 2016 - and ultimately our own homeland," McGurk wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post.

McGurk, a Barack Obama-era appointee whom Trump kept on, said he was in the US embassy in Baghdad on December 17 when he got an urgent call from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informing him of Trump's decision.

Two days later, Trump tweeted, "We have defeated ISIS in Syria,” using an alternative acronym for the group.

"But that was not true, and we have continued to conduct airstrikes against the Islamic State," McGurk said.

The decision came just days after National Security Advisor John Bolton had suggested an indefinite US troop presence in Syria, and as McGurk and then defence secretary Jim Mattis met coalition partners to confirm commitments for at least the next year.

"My counterparts in coalition capitals were bewildered," McGurk said. 

"The president's decision to leave Syria was made without deliberation, consultation with allies or Congress, assessment of risk, or appreciation of facts.”

Mattis quit after Trump's decision.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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