U.S.-backed forces storm ISIS-held vil­lage in east­ern Syria

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - WORLD -

BEIRUT — U.S.-backed Syr­ian forces en­tered an east­ern vil­lage held by the Is­lamic State group where in­tense clashes are on­go­ing on Satur­day, a day af­ter the ex­trem­ists re­port­edly killed 20 fight­ers, the forces and a war mon­i­tor said.

The Kur­dish-led Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces said its fight­ers stormed Bagouz and are close to the cen­ter of the vil­lage. The Kurds plan to open another front in the Sousseh area along the Euphrates river to in­crease pres­sure on the ex­trem­ists.

SDF launched, with the help of the U.S.-led coali­tion, a wide of­fen­sive this week to cap­ture the last pocket held by ISIS in Syria. The Kur­dish-led forces have been among the most ef­fec­tive in the fight against ISIS in Syria, forc­ing them out of much of the coun­try’s east.

De­spite los­ing most of the ter­ri­tory it held be­tween Iraq and Syria since its peak in 2014, the ji­hadi ISIS re­mains a dis­rup­tive force in both coun­tries. Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi, urged his fol­low­ers to “per­se­vere” in an au­dio tape at­trib­uted to him last month.

The ISIS-linked Aa­maq news agency said the group’s gun­men tar­geted ad­vanc­ing SDF fight­ers in the Bagouz area with mor­tar rounds, road­side bombs and sniper fire in­flict­ing many ca­su­al­ties among them.

The SDF com­man­der of the op­er­a­tion in Bagouz, who iden­ti­fied him­self as Shergo, said in a video state­ment that the fight­ing is in­tense from both sides and that his fight­ers now con­trol al­most half of the vil­lage.

“We will take all this place from ISIS,” Shergo said in English.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said ISIS fight­ers are re­ly­ing on a net­work of tun­nels in the area and land mines to slow down SDF’s of­fen­sive. It said that some 100 women and 30 men, in­clud­ing ISIS fight­ers, along with their chil­dren, sur­ren­dered to SDF fight­ers. ISIS gun­men were taken to a tightly se­cured po­si­tions in the area, it added.

The storm­ing of Bagouz came a day af­ter the Ob­ser­va­tory said ISIS gun­men took ad­van­tage of a sand­storm and killed 20 SDF fight­ers in the coun­try’s east, wound­ing oth­ers.

The Ob­ser­va­tory said SDF brought in Fri­day some 1,000 fight­ers to for­tify its po­si­tions and boost the forces car­ry­ing out the of­fen­sive.

Also Satur­day, Is­rael at­tacked Da­m­as­cus In­ter­na­tional Air­port with mis­siles, Syr­ian state me­dia said, adding that air de­fenses shot down some of them. A war mon­i­tor­ing group said the at­tack tar­geted an arms de­pot for Ira­nian forces or Le­banon’s Hezbol­lah group.

Ex­plo­sions dur­ing the at­tack were heard across Da­m­as­cus. State me­dia quoted an uniden­ti­fied mil­i­tary of­fi­cial as re­port­ing the at­tack but gave no fur­ther de­tails.

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