Syria: US-backed forces launch ′final′ operation against ′Islamic State′ strongholds | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 01.05.2018
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Syria: US-backed forces launch 'final' operation against 'Islamic State' strongholds

Kurdish-led forces have targeted 'IS' pockets in eastern Syria, where the "remnants of its leadership" are hiding, said a US official. Airstrikes that coincided with the announcement have left 23 civilians dead.

The White House on Tuesday announced that the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have renewed operations "to liberate the final ISIS strongholds in Syria," referring to the Islamic State (IS) militant group by an alternative acronym.

"These last ISIS strongholds retain the remnants of its leadership and hardcore foreign fighters," said Brett McGurk, the US envoy for the global coalition against IS. "The battle will take time, but we have full confidence in our partners and certain they will prevail."

The announcement coincided with reports that 23 civilians were killed in airstrikes in the Hasakeh province, where US-backed forces launched their latest operation. However, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said it was unclear "if the US-led international coalition or Iraqi forces carried out the strike."

The US-led coalition against IS has been criticized for failing to do more to protect civilian lives during its operations in Syria and Iraq. But the coalition has said it takes every precaution to minimize civilian casualties.

'Continue liberating'

The Kurdish-led SDF has been a crucial on-the-ground partner for the coalition. Last year, it liberated Raqqa, long considered the de facto capital of the militant group.

"The main aim of this battle will be to continue liberating the few areas which (IS) still controls near the border with Iraq," SDF spokesman Gabriel Kino told German news agency DPA. The mission is "to end the presence of (IS) from areas in the eastern Euphrates and eastern Syria in general."

Read more: 'Islamic State': Will it survive a post-caliphate future?

Although US President Donald Trump has signaled his desire to pull US troops out of Syria, Nauert said Washington will "ensure that there is a strong and lasting footprint in Syria such that ISIS cannot return," according to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

'End of major combat operations' in Iraq

The latest military operation targeting IS comes as the international community winds down its offensive against the militant group. On Monday, the coalition deactivated the command center for its joint land component in Iraq, saying it marked the "end of major combat operations against ISIS in Iraq."

The German government has stepped up its reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Last week, German Development Minister Gerd Müller traveled to Iraq to discuss post-conflict plans with the Iraqi government.

Berlin has earmarked an additional €350 million ($420 million) for reconstruction for this year. The assistance is expected to fund projects for emergency aid and infrastructure.

ls/rc (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)

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