US-backed Syrian force announces 'final battle' against IS

US-backed Syrian force announces 'final battle' against IS
A final push against IS' last pocket of territory in eastern Syria is being made by SDF forces.
2 min read
09 February, 2019
The SDF are ready for a final push against IS [Getty]

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Saturday that a "final battle" against the Islamic State group in eastern Syria has started.

It follows an earlier comment by SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali that an offensive on IS had been briefly frozen to allow civilians to escape the so-called Hajin pocket.

Thousands of civilians are believed to have used humanitarian corridors to escape the war-zone, including many children, semi-starved and sick due to a punishing siege, and villages and farms transformed into battlefields.

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told AFP that "the battle has started", following the week-long pause in fighting.

The Kurdish-Arab militia - backed by US air strikes - have now resumed the fight to take the last four-square-kilometre (one-square-mile) patch of territory in eastern Syria's Deir az-Zour from IS.

"The SDF have launched the final battle to crush IS... in the village of Baghouz," the SDF said in a statement.

"After ten days of evacuating more than 20,000 civilians... the battle was launched tonight to exterminate the last remnants of the organisation."

Bali told AFP that around 600 IS fighters are still inside the pocket, most of them die-hard foreign fighers. 

Hundreds of civilians are also believed to be trapped inside one of the last IS territories.

"This battle will be sealed in the coming days," he said.

The humanitarian pause by the SDF follows reports that IS are holding high-profile western hostages, such as British journalist John Cantlie and popular long-term Syria resident Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, as bargaining chips. 

Father Paolo is believed to have been murdered by jihadi militants in 2013, but a report from Syrian Observatory for Human Rights this week claimed he was alive and being held in the Hajin pocket.

The SDF said it has not been in communication or agreed the ceasefire with IS.

IS controlled much of eastern Syria and northern, western Iraq from 2014 until their near defeat over the past two years by US-backed forces.

President Donald Trump said this week that he expected IS to be "100 percent" defeated within a week.

There are fears that IS sleeper cells could smuggle themselves among civilians and launch a new insurgency following a planned US withdrawal, due to be completed by April.

Agencies contributed to this story.