The final phase of the assault to capture the remaining Islamic State-held territory in eastern Syria has begun, according to the U.S.-led Coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces, its main partner on the ground in Deir Ezzor.
“The last phase of Operation Roundup kicks off soon with the Syrian Democratic Forces leading the way in the Lower Euphrates River Valley to destroy the final remnants of ISIS,” Colonel Sean Ryan, spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, told The Defense Post on Monday, September 10.
“The Iraqi Security Forces have supported the SDF’s maneuver by establishing blocking positions along the southeast portion of the Iraqi-Syrian border and conducting precision strikes against ISIS targets.”
An SDF source told The Defense Post that an official announcement was imminent.
Earlier, AFP reported that the Coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces launched a fierce assault against the pocket of territory held by ISIS around Hajin in eastern Deir Ezzor province, citing an SDF commander.
An SDF commander said the assault, relying heavily on artillery and U.S.-led Coalition air strikes, had killed at least 15 ISIS fighters.
“Our forces today began attacking the last bastions of Daesh in Hajin, with intense artillery and air support,” said the SDF commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity and used an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“The clashes will be fierce in Hajin because Daesh has reinforced their positions, but we will take control of it,” the commander told AFP.
Update, September 11:
On Tuesday, the SDF and Coalition officially announced the start of the operation.
“Syrian Democratic Forces initiated ground operations for phase three of Operation Roundup on September 10,” the Coalition said in a press release.
“The ground offensive, supported by Coalition cross-border air and artillery strikes, will clear ISIS remnants from northeastern Syria, along the Middle Euphrates River Valley toward the Syria-Iraq border.”
Operation Roundup, CJTF-OIR’s name for Operation Jazeera Storm, began on May 1. The shaping operations began on August 4.
The SDF Military Operation and Coordination Center said the Deir Ezzor Military Council, People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) would participate with aerial support from Coalition forces.
In this final phase of the campaign, the brigades of the #DeirEzzor Military Council, #DMC with the support of units and formations of the border guards and the active participation of special forces battalions of the #YPG and #YPJ, with the Aerial support of #Coalition forces
— SDF_MOACC (@SDF_MOACC) September 11, 2018
ISIS declared a self-styled “caliphate” in 2014 across swathes of Syria and Iraq, but various separate offensives by the national armies of both countries, Kurdish forces and international backers have seen the jihadists’ territory shrink dramatically.
In Syria, ISIS controls a small area of Deir Ezzor as well as some territory in the south. At Tanf, near the Jordanian border, the few remaining ISIS fighters face the Coalition-backed Maghawir al-Thowra force.
The SDF, founded in October 2015, has been backed by Coalition air and artillery strikes, and special forces advisers. The SDF, which includes includes Kurdish, Arab and other fighters, ousted ISIS from swathes of Syria’s north last year, including from their main bastion Raqqa.
In Deir Ezzor, the SDF is battling ISIS on the eastern side of the Euphrates River while Syrian regime troops backed by Russia battle them west of the river.
In July, a Coalition official said a few hundred ISIS fighters remain in the eastern pocket.
In a purported new audio recording released on August 22, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi remained defiant.
“The caliphate will remain … and is not confined to Hajin,” he said.
This story was updated on Monday, September 10 at 1330 GMT with additional information from the SDF and at 1600 GMT with the Coalition statement. It was updated again on September 11 with the official SDF and Coalition announcements.
With reporting from AFP