Is­lamic State en­clave at­tacked

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - WORLD - By Bassem Mroue Bassem Mroue is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

BEIRUT — U.S.-backed Syr­ian forces en­tered an eastern vil­lage held by the Is­lamic State group where in­tense clashes were on­go­ing 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 were close to the cen­ter of the vil­lage. The forces added that they planned 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 last week to cap­ture the last pocket held by Is­lamic State in Syria. The Kur­dish-led forces have been among the most ef­fec­tive in the fight against the ex­trem­ists in Syria, forc­ing them out of much of the coun­try’s east.

De­spite los­ing most of the ter­ri­tory it held in Iraq and Syria since its peak in 2014, Is­lamic State 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 Is­lamic State-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, caus­ing ca­su­al­ties.

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

Bri­tain’s Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said Is­lamic State 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 Is­lamic State fight­ers, along with their chil­dren, sur­ren­dered to the SDF.

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

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