The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched a fierce assault Monday (September 10th) against a dwindling pocket of territory held by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in east Syria, AFP reported.
The Arab-Kurd alliance has been closing in for months on the town of Hajin in Deir Ezzor province, and on Monday began an offensive for the ISIS-held town.
An SDF commander said the assault, relying heavily on artillery and international coalition airstrikes, has killed at least 15 ISIS fighters, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the ISIS death toll was at least 17.
"Our forces today began attacking the last bastions of ISIS in Hajin, with intense artillery and air support," said the SDF commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"The clashes will be fierce in Hajin because ISIS has reinforced its positions, but we will take control of it," the commander said.
The Observatory said the SDF had been amassing fighters and equipment and shoring up their positions for weeks ahead of the attack.
"The operation to end ISIS’s presence in this pocket began today, with the heaviest airstrikes, artillery fire, and ground attacks in months by the SDF and the coalition," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
He said the SDF had broken into Hajin from its northwestern edge and taken control of part of the area, while opening a humanitarian corridor to allow residents to flee.
Coalition spokesman Sean Ryan on Monday told AFP that ISIS still held an estimated 1,000 square kilometres in the Euphrates Valley.
"The challenges ahead include a difficult fight and it will not be easy," he said, adding that ISIS's use of mines "will make fighting slower than expected".
Coalition troops would not take part in any "major ground advance" alongside the SDF, he said.