A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stands in a cemetary in Qamishli during the funeral a fellow fighter killed in the town of Hajin during battles against ISIS. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) reported their first advance against ISIS in Deir ez-Zor province in six weeks.
“Our fighters managed to advance 3 km… after breaking the lines of defence and fortifications of terrorists during strong engagements that lasted for hours,” the SDF media centre stated on Wednesday in a summary of events of the last three days on the battlefield.
This advance occurred in the Hajin area where the SDF said ISIS attacked them with mortars and heavy weapons.
The last time the SDF reported an advance was on October 23.
Some 2,000 battle-hardened militants are estimated to be holding out in the Euphrates River valley of Deir ez-Zor province, between Hajin and the border with Iraq.
In November, militants took advantage of bad weather to launch attacks on the Kurdish-led forces on the ground. The weather also limited air support from the US-led coalition.
The alliance of local forces took heavy casualties. According to conflict monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 473 SDF members have been killed since September 10, 2018. During the same time, 820 ISIS militants have been killed.
The spokesperson for the force, Kino Gabriel, acknowledged the challenge they are facing against ISIS in the last significant territory the terror groups holds.
“ISIS may seem to have the advantage of knowing the terrain, using previously built defences such as trenches and tunnels. They also continue their inhuman and radical use of suicide vehicles and civilians as human shields. However, despite these factors, we are confident of our ability to win and achieve the final defeat of terrorism,” said Gabriel last week.
The SDF also temporarily suspended operations in early November after Turkish attacks on their forces and villages in the north of the territory they control, known to Kurds as Rojava.
With their recent advances, the SDF also evacuated more than 1,000 civilians, mostly women and children, after opening a secure crossing.
The United Nations has estimated there are some 10,000 civilians caught in the ISIS-held enclave and has expressed concern for their safety. The Observatory has documented the deaths of 308 civilians in military operations in the Euphrates River valley since early September.