The Syrian Democratic Forces continue to make gains against the last holdouts of ISIS militants along the Euphrates River in Deir ez-Zour.
Along the northern banks of the Euphrates River, ISIS militants are clinging to a small strip of steadily-diminishing land. Dubbed Wilayat Furat (Euphrates Province) by the militant group, this cluster of 14 towns and villages are now the focus of the Operation Jazira Storm led by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Located on the far southeastern edge of the Deir ez-Zour Province of Syria and straddling along the Iraqi border, the Euphrates pocket is one of five ISIS holdouts that still remains in the country, the other four being the Jazira Region along the Iraqi border, the Syrian Desert/Badiya al-Sham that straddles the provincial border of Homs and Deir ez-Zour, the Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Damascus City, and the Yarmouk Basin in Daraa Province.
The frontlines of the Euphrates pocket have been static over the past months due to the SDF suspending its operations in the region after the Turkish-backed rebels launched their own operations in Afrin. However, on May 1, the SDF announced the resumption of the Operation Jazira Storm, launching numerous attacks on ISIS positions.
The SDF fighters on the frontlines say that much of the challenge does not come from the militants themselves but mines, IEDs and tunnel networks. However, the uncharacteristically heavy rains in the region have impeded their usefulness. The militants themselves, estimated to number at around 2,000, most of whom appear to be foreigners, have been putting up little to no resistance. Indeed, in the villages captured by the SDF, a number of militant bodies were found, apparently executed for desertion. The few militants that are still putting up a fight have mostly resorted to hit-and-run tactics.
In addition to cooperation with the International Coalition, the SDF has also been cooperating with the Iraqi Security Forces who have been concerned about ISIS militants launching cross-border attacks. Recently, the Iraqi Air Force launched a series of airstrikes into ISIS positions in Syria. In conjunction, the Iraqi Government announced the arrests of five top-ranking ISIS officials from the Euphrates pocket after they were lured into Iraq.