DAMASCUS – The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will soon launch an offensive to oust Islamic State militants from Deir Ezzor province, an official from the alliance told Reuters on Friday.
Ahmed Abu Khawla, head of the Deir Ezzor military council which fights under the SDF, said the assault might begin “within several weeks” in parallel with the battle for Raqqa city.
The SDF alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias has been battling inside the historic Old City of Raqqa, Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria.
Spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, the SDF began its assault in June, after months of fighting to encircle Raqqa with air strikes and special forces from the US-led coalition.
As Islamic State has come under pressure in Raqqa, many of its forces have fallen back on the towns and cities further east along the Euphrates in Deir Ezzor province.
“The operation to liberate Deir Ezzor will begin very, very soon,” Khawla said, adding that his unit had already “entered Deir Ezzor territory and liberated several towns” there.
Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led coalition, said its focus remained on Raqqa.
Khawla said there were 4,000 fighters, mostly Arabs and mostly from the city, in the Deir Ezzor military council which he heads.
They had taken part in all the campaigns the SDF had waged and were now fighting inside Raqqa, he said.
Syria’s government backed by Russia, Iran and Shiite militias, is engaged in its own campaign in eastern Syria aimed at relieving its besieged enclave in the city.
The Syrian army is advancing along the south and west bank of the Euphrates towards where the city of Deir Ezzor is located, while the SDF is mostly on the north and east bank, where Raqqa is located.