The Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces are increasing their cooperation against ISIS militants along the Iraq-Syria Border.
The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) announced that the Iraqi Air Force conducted a series of airstrikes against ISIS positions in the Syrian town of Dashisha on Monday. The airstrike, which was the third such airstrike to be conducted by the Iraqi Air Force in Syria, highlights Iraq’s growing role in eliminating ISIS militants in Syria, as well as its increasing coordination with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The strikes come amidst the SDF resuming its Operation Jazira Storm in the Deir ez-Zour and Hasakah Provinces of Syria after having suspended it earlier in 2018. Since the resumption of operations, the SDF has concentrated its efforts on eliminating ISIS militants in two major pockets along the Iraq-Syria Border: The Euphrates Pocket that covers a small patch of land along the northern banks of the Euphrates River and the Jazira Pocket, which straddles a large but relatively empty stretch of land that borders Iraq’s Anbar and Nineveh Provinces. So far, much of the SDF ground assault has focused on the Euphrates Pocket. However, the airstrikes of Dashisha, which is believed to have destroyed an ISIS headquarters and logistics centre, suggests that pressure is building on the Jazira Pocket.
For the ISF, the decision to assist the SDF comes after ISIS militants in Syria increased the frequency of their cross-border attacks into Iraq. Rising number of casualties among the ISF and civilian population due to ISIS raids have prompted the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to announce special measures to ensure that the militants could not use Syria as a launchpad to continue their attacks into Iraq.
The coordination between the ISF and SDF is a welcome regional development. Over the course of 2017, there were fears that the two sides could come to blows with each other over wider regional politics. Instead, it would appear that the Iraqi Government has chosen the path of pragmatism in cooperating with different actors against ISIS. A previous airstrike in Syria by the Iraqi Air Force, which killed 36 ISIS militants, was coordinated with the Syrian Government and targeted ISIS positions that threatened the Syrian Arab Army positions around Albu Kamal. Meanwhile a sting operation coordinated with the Turkish Government was instrumental in facilitating the arrests of five high-ranking ISIS militants.