BEIRUT: Military operations against the Daesh group in Syria are wrapping up and the last pockets of the militants’ self-proclaimed “caliphate” will be flushed out within a month, a top commander said.
Mazloum Kobani, the chief of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spearheading the battle against Daesh, said that its “special status” should be preserved in any talks with the Damascus government.
“The operation of our forces against Daesh in its last pocket has reached its end and Daesh fighters are now surrounded in one area,” said Kobani.
With backing from the US-led coalition, the SDF are in the last phase of an operation started on September 10 to defeat the militants in their Euphrates Valley bastions in eastern Syria.
“We need a month to eliminate Daesh remnants still in the area,” said Kobani near the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh.
A few hundred Daesh fighters are defending a handful of hamlets near the Iraqi border.
“I believe that during the next month we will officially announce the end of the military presence on the ground of the so-called caliphate,” Kobani said.
Intense fighting in the area known as “the Hajin pocket” has left hundreds of fighters dead on both sides, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.
Daesh lost the town of Hajin late last year and the subsequent collapse of its defences saw the SDF – an alliance of Kurdish forces and local tribal fighters – conquer one village after another.
Kobani said their battle had been complicated as Daesh shifted its strategy after the SDF ousted the militants from their de-facto Syrian capital of Raqqa in 2017.
New tactics include “sleeper cells everywhere, secretly recruiting people again, and carrying out suicide operations, bombings, and assassinations”, he said.
“We expect there will be an increase in the intensity of Daesh operations against our forces after the end of their military presence.”
Daesh has retained a presence in Syria’s vast Badia desert and has claimed a series of attacks in SDF-held territory.
The SDF have been the main ground partner in Syria of the US-led coalition created in 2014 to fight the militants.
Last month, US President Donald Trump announced he was ordering a full troop pullout from Syria, a move that left the Kurds feeling betrayed and exposed to Turkish attacks.
The minority has since turned to the government of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to guarantee its survival, but Kobani said negotiations were proving difficult.
“Any political agreement should include the special status” of the Syrian Democratic Forces after they fought Daesh “on behalf of all humanity and even the Syrian army”, he said.
“This is our red line and we will not concede this.”
The Kurdish-led alliance “protected northeastern Syria… liberated these areas, and have the right to continue protecting the region”, Kobani added.
Assad’s government has gained ground against rebels and militants with key Russian backing since 2015, and now controls almost two-thirds of the country.
It is determined to reassert its authority over oil-rich SDF-held areas, which make up the lion’s share of the rest.