The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are preparing for their final offensive against ISIS, which is cornered in a tiny sliver of territory along the Syrian border with Iraq, a report by Sputnik said.
ISIS lost its last town of any importance, the town of Hajin, back in November, and on Thursday, the SDF captured two ISIS-controlled villages east of the Euphrates River: al-Marashidah and Arqoub, al-Masdar News reported. With that, the so-called "caliphate" ruled by ISIS was reduced to a couple of square miles around the town of al-Baghuz Fawqani.
Now, after weeks of slow and steady advance, the SDF has halted its assault.
"Currently, the SDF is advancing very cautiously to ensure the safety of civilians that ISIS [Daesh] is using as human shields," an SDF spokesperson told AFP Friday.
With the final push on Daesh's last stronghold only days away, the Kurds are looking to the future. US forces will leave Syria for good by the end of April, Sputnik reported Friday, noting the last pullout spot would be at-Tanf, a base very far from the Euphrates Valley and the SDF.
“We are seeking a political solution in Syria, which requires an agreement with the government in Damascus. We have chosen a political agreement with Damascus because we don't want secession from Syria," senior Kurdish official Badran Jia Kurdi told AFP.
Following the December announcement by US President Donald Trump of the US withdrawal from Syria, Kurdish leaders flew to Damascus to bury the hatchet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as the twin problems of the continuing war against Daesh and a threatened invasion by Turkey hung over their heads.
Afterward, Assad's Syrian Arab Army forces began occupying Kurdish positions near the Turkish border, such as the city of Manbij, and the SDF turned its forces eastward for the final push against their mutual enemy: ISIS.
Addressing the ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS on Wednesday, Trump boasted of the imminent defeat of the terror group, saying, "It should be formally announced sometime, probably next week, that we will have 100 percent of the caliphate."
However, just because ISIS has lost control of its territory doesn't mean the threat it poses is gone.
AFP warns that the group maintains sleeper cells in cities it once ruled across eastern Syria and northern Iraq.
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the SDF arrested at least 48 suspected members of ISIS in Raqqa, a city that served as the de facto ISIS capital at the height of the
As tens of thousands of refugees have fled from the war zone, the SDF has set up screening centers to process them — and to catch the ISIS militants attempting to escape the Syrian-SDF assault.
SOfHR reports that at least 3,200 of the 37,000 refugees have been militants, and the SDF has several hundred ISIS fighters in captivity. The US State Department announced on February 4 it intended to repatriate those roughly 900 prisoners, and if it couldn't, it was weighing the option of sending them to its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Sputnik reported.
“They are attempting to escape through intermixing with the innocent women and children attempting to flee the fighting," SDF deputy commander Major General Christopher Ghika told AFP on Thursday.