The Syrian Democratic Forces and the Iraqi Security Forces continue to coordinate their operations along the Iraq-Syria Border against ISIS militants.
Along the eastern banks of the Euphrates River, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continue the Operation Jazira Storm against some 2,000 ISIS militants who continue to occupy a small pocket of villages and small towns in the Deir ez-Zour Province. Cooperating with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), the SDF has recently secured the border with Iraq in the Euphrates region, allowing the anti-ISIS operations to gradually whittle down the remaining militants in the region.
The securing of the border took place when the SDF captured the village of Baghuz Tahtani from ISIS militants. Since then, the SDF has moved further into the pocket, taking control of the Syriatel communication towers some five kilometres west of Bahguz Tahtani. The SDF has also skirmished with ISIS militants near the village of Hajin at the other end of the pocket. Despite the small size (at about 20 square kilometres) of the territory, progress has been slow owing to the presence of civilians and the entrenched positions of the militants who have increasingly reverted to using guerrilla tactics.
In a bid to prevent casualties among the SDF and expedite progress, the Iraqi Air Force and the International Coalition has been launching regular airstrikes against ISIS-held areas. In conjunction, a number of surgical strikes and sting operations were launched to capture high-ranking militants present in the pocket. In a bid to prevent militants from escaping, a series of watchtowers have also been set-up between Baghuz and the Tanak Oilfields.
The Euphrates pocket is not the only part of the Iraq-Syria Border under ISIS control. Further north, the large swathe of desert that covers the easternmost Deir ez-Zour and Hasakah provinces stretching across a border of 120 kilometres and over 100 villages. The Iraqi side of the border was long secured by the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU). However, increased frequency of ISIS attacks on the PMU positions in recent weeks has raised concerns that the militants are mobilising.
The gradual whittling down of the ISIS presence here in the Euphrates comes amidst the group’s loss of its holdings in the Yarmouk Refugee Camp. These latest developments leave the group, which already lost its power base, with an ever-shrinking piece of land.