The Syrian Democratic Forces' offensive against ISIS in Deir ez-Zour gains momentum following the capture of the town of Hajin from the militants. Although heavy fighting continues, the militant defences appear to be crumbling.
In the Euphrates Pocket of Deir ez-Zour, heavy fighting continues between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and ISIS. After remaining static for nearly a year, the SDF recently resumed its final push against the militants who have since been isolated in a small stretch of land near the Iraqi Border. The capture of the group’s newest de-facto capital, Hajin, seems to suggest that the momentum against the militants has now been truly gained.
By all accounts, it has not been an easy battle. Although the SDF announced the final operations against ISIS in September, and made significant gains around the villages of Baghuz Tahtani and Baghuz Fawqani in the early stages of the offensive, many of these gains were rolled back in November. The militants, taking advantage of increment weather and suicide bombers, retook the Baghuz villages and briefly reached the Iraqi Border in the east while launching attacks on the SDF-held town of Bahrah near Hajin in the west.
Although nominally a success, these attacks made use of suicide bombers and human wave tactics that led to ISIS losing far more fighters than the SDF did. When SDF reinforcements, backed with artillery and airstrikes, arrived in the region, they were able to roll back much of the ISIS gains, ultimately pushing into the town of Hajin. For all the militants’ use of suicide bombers and tunnel networks, ISIS lost ground in Hajin and ultimately lost the town. Go-Pro footage captured from dead militants show many ISIS footsoldiers in a state of confusion as order seems to break down amidst their ranks.
Since then, the fighting has moved towards the villages of Qalaat, Albu Khatir and Abu Hassan in the west and the Baghuz villages in the east. In Albu Khatir, some 17 ISIS militants were killed, bringing the total number of dead militants since September to 945. The militants have attempted to counterattack numerous times, but these attempts seem to be faltering amidst the collapse of the militant defences.