‘Heavy clashes’ as US-backed forces battle IS in Syria: monitor

Kurds in Iraq say US withdrawal from Syria a mistake

Kurds in Iraq say US withdrawal from Syria a mistake

The SDF fought off an ISIS counterattack Sunday morning, said media officer Mustafa Bali, and were able to advance from the north and west.

The sound of bombs echoed dozens of kilometres (miles) away and columns of dark grey smoke could be seen from SDF territory.

The strategy, which the group deployed in Mosul and elsewhere, is presenting a real challenge, SDF commanders said. Advancing SDF fighters have also faced sniper fire, auto bombs and landmines.

He reports ground forces backed by USA and coalition airstrikes launched an offensive over the weekend to rid the last remnants of ISIS from the only foothold they have left.

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.

US-backed forces have screened the new arrivals, weeding out potential jihadists for questioning.

The assault on Baghouz is being conducted by the SDF's Kurdish and Arab fighters, backed by US airstrikes and USA advisers.

Coalition forces stood over about 20 men who were crouching on the ground.

The SDF had delayed starting its last offensive, giving civilians time to flee.

Still, there may be between 14,000 and 18,000 IS militants scattered across Syria and in Iraq, including as many as 3,000 foreign militants, according to a recent report by the United Nations sanctions monitoring team presented to the Security Council.

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The fighting is expected to be over within days, Mr Bali said. The ISIS also using civilians as human shields, the Observatory said.

The Observatory said 12 IS gunmen attacked the SDF and clashed with them for several hours until most of the attackers were killed early Saturday.

At the height of its rule, IS controlled territory the size of Britain.

IS does still hold another scrap of territory in Syria - and it continues to carry out dozens of attacks - many targeting the SDF.

The situation is a far cry from the president's announcement in December that ISIS was already defeated, saying he planned to pull USA troops from Syria.

The surprise announcement prompted the U.S. military to caution in a report published this month that the group "could likely resurge in Syria within six to 12 months and regain limited territory" if sustained pressure is not maintained.

With the end of combat operations in sight, the U.S. is just weeks away from withdrawing its troops from Syria, the top USA commander overseeing American forces in the Middle East said on Sunday.

Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, estimated there are between 1,000 and 1,500 IS fighters in the small area they still control, but he said others have "dispersed" and "gone to ground".

"The coalition's hard-won battlefield gains can only be secured by maintaining a vigilant offensive against the now-largely dispersed and disaggregated ISIS that retains leaders, fighters, facilitators, resources and the profane ideology that fuels their efforts", Votel added. Including things the U.S. says it doesn't need.

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