TUE 19 - 3 - 2019
Jan 9, 2019
The Daily Star
Counterattack by Daesh in east Syria leaves 32 dead
BEIRUT/MOSCOW: Die-hard militants defending their last bastions in eastern Syria used the cover of bad weather to launch a vain but deadly counterattack against Kurdish-led fighters. Daesh (ISIS) was unable to hold onto the positions its fighters attacked but the assault killed 23 members of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and also left nine terrorists dead. Daesh militants took advantage of poor visibility to unleash suicide attackers on SDF fighters along the front line in the Euphrates valley late Sunday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday.
The militants often launch attacks under the cover of bad weather that cancels out their opponents’ advantage of U.S.-led coalition air power.
The SDF launched what was meant to be the final offensive on the militant group four months ago with air and ground support from coalition forces.
The Kurdish-Arab alliance has deployed some 17,000 fighters for an operation aimed at flushing out Daesh from the last rump of its now-defunct “caliphate.”
Daesh militants “launched deadly counterattacks in three different directions against the Syrian Democratic Forces, including in the villages of Sousa and Al-Shaafa,” the Observatory chief Rami Abdel-Rahman said.
He said they used at least two suicide bombers in their attacks, which inflicted the latest in a string of heavy losses on the SDF.
According to the Observatory, 1,087 militants were killed since the start of the operation on Sept. 10, while some 602 members of the SDF also died.
“Monday morning, the SDF launched an offensive and retook all the positions they lost,” the Observatory said.
“Due to its depleted manpower, Daesh was unable to hold onto the positions it attacked,” it added.
Abdel-Rahman said the militants’ defenses in the area had collapsed and the end of the battle was drawing near.
The militants who remain, however, include seasoned fighters who have little to lose and are prepared to die in a last stand.
The meanders of the Euphrates in the east of Deir al-Zor province near the border with Iraq are considered the heartland of Daesh and are perilous terrain for the SDF.
“Their defense lines have been shattered. The militants are mostly using snipers, snap attacks, tunnels and land mines” to slow the SDF’s inexorable advance, Abdel-Rahman said.
In mid-December, the SDF took Hajin, the last town of note in the Daesh-controlled pocket, signaling the imminent fall of the militants’ last bastion.
Daesh lost the village of Al-Shaafa Saturday and is battling to hold on to Sousa and Baghouz.
Meanwhile, Russian military police began patrolling around the Syrian city of Manbij, a spokesman said Tuesday, moving into an area once held by the SDF.
Russian forces are acting in support of Syrian government troops who recently deployed around Manbij, in Aleppo province near the border with Turkey.
Kurdish fighters, fearing a Turkish military assault, invited regime forces to Manbij late last month after U.S. President Donald Trump’s shock announcement of a full American withdrawal from Syria.
Speaking in a report on Rossiya 24 television, Russian military police spokesman Yusup Mamatov said the main task was “to monitor the situation and movements of armed formations.”
In northwest Syria, meanwhile, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham gained ground Tuesday against Turkish-backed rebels in Idlib province, edging closer to front lines with government forces, a rebel official and the Observatory said.
Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, spearheaded by Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, is expanding its grip over the insurgent enclave, which includes Idlib province and adjacent parts of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.
Idlib is the last opposition stronghold, where Turkish forces are stationed. It borders territory that Turkey-backed rebels control near the Turkish frontier.
The main Turkish-backed rebel force, the National Army, has deployed along fronts close to the militants to repel any new advance toward them. National Army spokesman Maj. Youssef Hamoud said HTS militants seized four villages in Sahl al-Ghab from rival rebels Tuesday.
“We call on [the rebel factions] inside Idlib to launch an operation so that we can try to open a new front and relieve some pressure off them,” he said.
He said HTS militants, who launched their offensive last week, were preparing to march toward the key towns of Ariha and Maaret al-Numan in Idlib.
The Observatory said fierce battles raged in Sahl al-Ghab, adding that if HTS did take Ariha, Maaret al-Numan and some villages in between, it would effectively control all Idlib.
The fighting was taking place inside a buffer zone that the Russian-Turkish deal had established along the front lines, the Observatory and a resident said.
The resident of Sahl al-Ghab said Turkish-backed factions had “no option but to fight to the death.”
“The factions are enclosed in a very small area.”
HTS gains had displaced some civilians toward government territory, the resident added.
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