BEIRUT: A US-backed Syrian fighting force said Tuesday it has begun the final stage of its campaign to clear Islamic State group militants from northeast Syria.
The Syrian Democratic Forces said it launched operations on Monday to expel IS militants from the town of Hajin and surrounding villages on the northeast banks of the Euphrates River.
The SDF is supported by the US-led international coalition against IS.
The coalition said in a statement it was supporting the SDF ground operation with air and artillery strikes.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said coalition jets bombed locations across the IS pocket in conjunction with the SDF ground offensive. At least 23 IS fighters were killed in the first 24 hours of battle, according to the Observatory.
Despite losing 90 percent of its territory between Iraq and Syria since its 2014 peak, the jihadist group remains a disruptive force in both countries and its leader, the self-appointed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, urged followers to “persevere” in an audio tape attributed to him last month.
In July, the group ambushed Sweida province in south Syria, sparking a day of battles that killed some 300 people. The militants continue to hold captive approximately 30 members of the minority Druze sect that they kidnapped during the July battle.
Syrian pro-government forces continue to battle the militants in the desert areas in the south and central areas of the country.