UN’s Yemen envoy pushes for new peace talks as fighting continues
September 15, 2018
| Middle East
AS-SUSAH: Fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) sing for courage as they ready for battle, this time for an assault on Daesh’s last stronghold in the country’s east.
The US-backed SDF and their American advisers have been grouped on the outskirts of the village of As-Susah on the east bank of the Euphrates River in Deir Ezzor province.
As pickup trucks loaded with fighters of the joint Kurdish-Arab force skid along snaking dirt roads, coalition forces have been firing rounds of mortar fire and rockets at Daesh positions.
After a salvo of outgoing fire, thick columns of smoke rise from As-Susah, which along with the town of Hajjin and other nearby villages make up Daesh’s last enclave in eastern Syria.
“Daesh has strong fortifications. We’re seeking to break the defenses and bring its presence east of the Euphrates to an end,” said a commander, Ibrahim Al-Dairi.
The SDF has been closing in on the pocket for months and it officially launched its offensive on Monday. Heavy clashes have since killed 46 terrorists and 15 SDF fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
The offensive “will clear remnants of (Daesh) from northeastern Syria along the Middle Euphrates River Valley toward the Syria-Iraq border,” according to the coalition.
“The battle is fateful for us and for Daesh too,” said Dairi. He expects the remaining terrorists to “fight to the death.”
The SDF estimates Daesh has some 3,000 fighters in its besieged holdout, a large portion of them foreigners. After having declared a cross-border “caliphate” in 2014, Daesh now controls less than 3 percent of Syria following a string of military defeats.
The group once held nearly all of Deir Ezzor, but separate offensives last year by the SDF and regime forces left the terrorists with a just small besieged pocket near the Iraqi border. Daesh slogans such as “the caliphate remains” mark the walls of homes in towns and villages from which Daesh has been expelled.
A few kilometers away in the desert hills along Syria’s border with Iraq, the SDF and coalition leaders are charting the offensive.
“We’re committed to the campaign and we will win,” Zaradasht Kobani, another Kurdish commander, said after speaking with fighters cleaning their weapons having just returned from the front lines.
“Even though Daesh has taken a lot of (defensive) measures… we will end its presence east of the Euphrates,” he said.
“This is the last bastion for Daesh’s mercenaries,” Kobani said. “We will eliminate them here.”
While Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts are unknown, the SDF believes other “major leaders” are hiding out in the pocket, according to Deir Ezzor military council chief Ahmad Abu Khawla.
“Most of the frontline commanders in this pocket are Iraqis,” he added.
The US coalition is backing up the SDF’s push with artillery support and air cover.
Kobani stressed that the coalition’s involvement was important for SDF morale. “We will end this campaign together,” he said.
Like in other battles that the SDF has waged against Daesh, booby traps and mines planted by the jihadists pose the biggest challenge.
As artillery fire pounded Daesh positions, yellow military bulldozers worked to clear roads for fighters.
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