One of the last remaining towns held by "Islamic State" militants in eastern Syria has fallen according to reports from Kurdish fighters and a UK-based observer group. About 5,000 IS fighters remain holed up.
Syrian fighters backed by the United States have taken the town of Hajin which lies in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the border with Iraq.
The reports on Friday came from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitoring group as well as a source in the militia leading the battle.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Kurdish YPG militia, have been fighting to eradicate the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS) for several months in the area.
News agency Reuters cited a YPG source as saying that the SDF was now in control of Hajin, and that a few small remaining pockets of IS resistance would be finished off in the next day or two.
"After a week of heavy fighting and air strikes, the SDF were able to kick IS out of Hajin," Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the of theU UK-based Syrian Observatory organization said.
He added that the last IS fighters were confined to a network of tunnels at the edges of Hajin.
SDF commander-in-chief Mazloum Kobani told Reuters on Thursday that there were believed to be about 5,000 Islamic State fighters holed up in the pocket of territory and that they had decided to fight to the death.
This includes some 2,000 foreign fighters, mostly Arabs and Europeans along with their families.
The militants also control some desert terrain west of the river in territory otherwise controlled by the Damascus government and its allies.
Rahman said a total of 17,000 fighters from the Kurdish-Arab SDF alliance are involved in the operation to flush IS out of its last bastion.
The operation to retake Hajin was launched on September 10 and has taken a heavy toll, according to figures collected by the Observatory, which has a vast network of sources on the ground.
At least 900 jihadists and 500 SDF fighters have been killed in the fighting, the monitoring group said.
According to Rahman, more than 320 civilians were also killed, many of them in air strikes by the US-led coalition.
Earlier in the week, US President Donald Trump predicted that the terrorist group would be fully defeated within a month.
"We've done a very, very major job on ISIS," he said on Tuesday, using another acronym for IS. "There are very few of them left in that area of the world. And within another 30 days, there won't be any of them left."
Western and other officials have repeatedly announced deadlines for a final victory over Islamic State militants but the group is proving resilient.
Kobani also mentioned that it was possible that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was in eastern Syria, but the SDF could not be sure because he often disappears.
The Islamic State has been driven from nearly all the territory it once held in Syria last year in separate campaigns waged by the US-backed SDF on the one hand, and the Russian-backed Syrian government on the other.
Besides what is left of the pocket near Hajin, IS has a presence in Syria's vast Badia desert, a front which is managed by Russian-backed government forces.
av/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP)