Syrian Democratic Forces have halted their operation against Daesh militants after weeks of fighting in what was supposed to be the final battle against the group in the eastern province of Deir Ez-Zor, officials confirmed yesterday.
Over 800 fighters, including more than 300 SDF troops, have been killed since the start of the final phase of “Operation Roundup” in September, with battles centring around the Al-Shafah and Hajin area on the eastern banks of the Euphrates.
The battle has proved difficult with so-called Islamic State militants fiercely resisting SDF attempts to capture towns in the region, despite hundreds of Kurdish fighters, including heavy military equipment, sent as reinforcements over the past week.
Although the SDF were also supported by fighter jets of the international coalition, strategically positioned minefields placed by Daesh significantly slowed the ground assault. As of Sunday, militants had managed to recapture almost all of the areas they had lost since the start of the assault seven weeks ago, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
However, an SDF statement has blamed Turkish shelling on Kurdish affiliated militias in the north as being responsible for the temporary suspension of the operation.
The Turkish military launched a renewed attack on Tal Abyad and Kobane this week, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowing on Tuesday to remove fighters belonging to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which make up the majority of the SDF.
Turkey considers the YPG, an offshoot of the designated terror organisation the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and has repeatedly condemned US backing for the militias in the fight against Daesh.
In a statement, the SDF confirmed that they had responded to the assault by destroying a Turkish military vehicle and reserved the “right to respond to all kinds of attacks”.
“The continuation of these attacks will cause a long halt in our military campaign against [Daesh],” it said. “We call on the international coalition to show a firm position to deter Turkey from these attacks.”
Colonel Sean J. Ryan, spokesman for the US-led Combined Joint Task Force echoed the calls for the offensive to be stopped immediately.
Despite the temporary halt in the operation, coalition air strikes have continued against the pocket of militants in Hajin this morning, SOHR reported.
Scores of civilians have been killed in the bombardment over the past month, with some 54 people, including 12 children, killed in a single strike on a mosque in the town of Al-Susah. The US alleged that the mosque was being used as a base by Daesh operatives; some 22 militants were also killed in the blast. Despite being hit during the weekly Friday congregational prayer, a popular time for civilians, the military claimed it targeted the mosque when only fighters were present.