Clashes between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Daesh militants have raged on in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ez-Zor, bringing the death toll from both sides to at least 341, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
An aerial and ground campaign conducted by the SDF and the US-led coalition on the eastern banks of the Euphrates River was launched last month to tackle a pocket of Daesh militants in the Al-Shafah and Hajin area.
The battle has proved difficult with so-called Islamic State fighters fiercely resisting SDF attempts to capture towns in the region; last week militants managed to retake several of the positions in Hajin city that Kurdish militia forces had briefly held. Strategically positioned minefields have also significantly slowed the SDF’s ground assault on the region, but air strikes conducted by the international coalition have aided in pushing the militants back.
The fighting is taking place just kilometres from the border with Iraq and the SDF is also coordinating with the Iraqi army.
“I can say that our relations with the Iraqi government and army are very good. We have frequent meetings,” an SDF commander told Kurdish news agency Rudaw.
Clashes continued in Hajin yesterday, prompting the arrival of a US Marine Corps unit and additional military equipment, SOHR added, as intense shelling of the region resumed this morning.
The Syrian army has also been sending troop reinforcements to the Al-Bukamal countryside over the past week in a bid to ward off infiltration from Daesh members seeking to escape to the bordering territory held by regime forces.
Civilians have been allowed to flee the fighting, but the intensity of the battle has made it difficult for dozens seeking to leave the region. Earlier this week, relief aid for 17,000 people, sponsored by the World Food Programme, arrived for families in the city of Al-Bukamal and its surrounding rural areas.
The international coalitions started what it regarded as the last battle against Daesh militants in Deir Ez-Zor last month.
“The operation is the last major SDF ground offensive in the MERV (Middle Euphrates Valley) to liberate the citizens from the brutal rule [of Daesh] over the past four years,” US Army Colonel Sean Ryan, spokesman for “Operation Inherent Resolve”, said in a statement.
The international coalition’s campaign also coincides with an ongoing operation by the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, backed by the Russian air force, in ousting Daesh from a pocket in the desert of Suwaida.