The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are close to seizing the town of Hajin, in eastern Syria, after weeks of fierce fighting. ISIS militants battled to retain control of the town and surrounding Deir el-Zour province using snipers, improvised explosive devices and a vast network of tunnels. The Kurdish-led SDF, supported by airstrikes by US jets, has fought to wipe out the terror group for several months.
Officials say the capture of Hajin is imminent with the final pockets of resistance expected to be eliminated in the next day or two.
SDF commanders said yesterday that at least 5,000 ISIS fighters had decided to remain in the town and the surrounding villages to fight to the death in a final stand against the advancing forces.
Brett McGurk, the US presidential envoy in the fight against ISIS, said this week that “almost every ISIS fighter is wearing a suicide vest”.
Of the 5,000 total, around 2,000 are said to be foreign fighters, mostly Arabs and Europeans along with their families.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 900 jihadists and 500 SDF fighters have already been killed in the battle for Hajin.
Lilwa al-Abdallah, spokeswoman for the offensive in eastern Deir al-Zor, said: “Military operations are ongoing to fully end Daesh (ISIS)… our forces are advancing in fierce battles.
“Soon, we will celebrate the full liberation of Hajin from the hands of the mercenaries.”
Hajin is the final large town controlled by ISIS in its rapidly diminishing territory east of the Euphrates River.
The region was home to some 15,000 people, including 2,000 ISIS militants who fought back with counteroffensives and suicide attacks.
Islamic State has now lost nearly all the territory it once held in Syria after being driven back by the SDF on front and the Russian-backed Syrian army on the other.
This week’s breakthrough comes after the campaign to wipe out the self-declared caliphate had stalled amid Turkish threats to attack SDF territory in northern Syria.
At its height in 2014, Islamic State’s self-styled caliphate ruled over Iraq’s second largest city Mosul and had some eight million people under its control.
In the years that have followed, more than 60,000 ISIS fighters are said to have been killed as operations to eliminate the extremist group gathered pace.