Iraqi forces stationed on the border with Syria are on high alert following the retreat of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the face of an "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) assault on the Hajin pocket near the Iraqi border, an Iraqi official told Diyaruna Monday (October 29th).
ISIS has ousted the Arab-Kurd alliance from its holdout in eastern Syria, killing dozens of fighters, AFP reported Sunday.
An SDF commander, asking not to be named, confirmed the SDF retreat from Hajin seven weeks into an offensive.
The SDF launched its campaign to retake the ISIS holdout on September 10th. But they have faced a fierce fight from the extremists, including under the cover of sandstorms, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"In counterattacks since Friday to Sunday dawn, ISIS has taken back all positions to which the SDF had advanced inside the Hajin pocket," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The Observatory reported 72 SDF fighters killed, as ISIS took advantage of the storm that hampered international coalition air cover and dispatched suicide bombers as part of their fightback.
The SDF commander said his forces had faced a "strong dust storm" and lacked local knowledge of the terrain.
Unlike ISIS, "our forces do not know the area and cannot move around in conditions of zero visibility", he said.
"Military reinforcements and heavy weapons have been sent to the front and some units will be replaced by more experienced ones," the commander said.
"We will launch a new military campaign as soon as those reinforcements have arrived," he said.
Iraq mounts 'full defence'
The militants have regained control of several towns east of the Euphrates River, most notably al-Sousa and al-Baghouz, near the border with Iraq.
Iraq has beefed up the units charged with securing the border with Syria, Iraqi Ministry of Defence spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasul told Diyaruna.
"Artillery brigades also have been deployed," he said, adding that they will respond firmly to any threat against Iraqi territory.
These measures are coupled with "intelligence efforts and accurate reconnaissance based on advanced technology", Rasul said.
Border areas often witness at this time of year dust storms and many weather fluctuations, which ISIS is using to its advantage, Rasul said.
"But we are taking that into account and our troops are equipped today with thermal cameras and sophisticated devices that have proven effective in the monitoring and detection of many terrorists who have infiltrated across the border," he said.
These devices are capable of detecting ISIS movements "even in the worst of weather conditions", according to Rasul.
Security forces have been constantly conducting security operations deep in the desert in search of any ISIS remnants, he said, and these pre-emptive, quality operations have exhausted the enemy and destroyed its remaining hideouts and safe havens.