Syria ousts 'IS' from urban stronghold
The Syrian army and allied Shiite militia forces encircled the town of Albu Kamal on Wednesday before ousting the "Islamic State" (IS) jihadi group from its last urban stronghold in the country.
Syrian state television declared that "Albu Kamal is liberated," while a Syrian military commander told the Reuters news agency that "The last stronghold of Daesh [the Arabic term for IS], Albu Kamal, is free of the Daesh organization."
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Albu Kamal is located on the Syrian border with Iraq, on the bank of the Euphrates in the oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour. Military sources reported Wednesday that Lebanese Hezbollah soldiers, fighting alongside the Syrian army, entered the town through Iraq, while the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces crossed through Syria to help seize the town.
Backed by Russian aerial support and missile strikes, Syrian regime forces had advanced towards Albu Kamal over the past two weeks.
Fighting in and around the area has led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people. According to Linda Tom from the United Nations' humanitarian coordination office in Damascus, some 120,000 people have been displaced from Albu Kamal alone.
While IS continues to controls areas of desert and a handful of small pockets along the Euphrates, the jihadi group has largely been ousted from its former strongholds by Russia and Iran-backed Syrian forces in central and eastern parts of the country, and by the US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias in northern and eastern Syria.
However, the group continues to out guerilla operations in Syria and Iraq at an alarming frequency, while lone militants continue to target civilians in western states.
Next phase of the Syria conflict
The ousting of IS in Syria is likely to lead to a far more geopolitically sensitive phase of the Syrian war, with the Syrian government vowing to recapture all the territory held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). These areas include IS' self-proclaimed former capital Raqqa, as well as a number of oil and gas
Under the control of Kurdish-led groups, many of the territories have since established their own autonomy, introduced their own internal policies and even announced local elections.
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On Tuesday, Bouthaina Shaaban, a senior advisor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, described US forces as illegal invaders for their role in propping up the Kurdish militias fighting in the country.
Washington, meanwhile, has yet to outline its plans for the region once IS has been defeated. Whether the United States intends to continue backing the SDF also remains unknown.
dm/sms (Reuters, AFP)