Conflict

SDF launch final stage of operations against ISIS in Deir ez-Zour

Syria

Syrian Democratic Forces are resuming the Jazeera Storm Offensive in Deir ez-Zour to eliminate ISIS militants in the Syria-Iraq border region.

In Syria’s eastern province of Deir ez-Zour, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have announced the initiation of the final stage to their counter-ISIS operations.

The Deir ez-Zour Offensive, also known as Jazeera Storm, was launched by the SDF in September 2017, with the aim of recapturing the remainder of the province under the control of ISIS militants. In March 2018, the offensive was suspended after the entire region east of the River Euphrates was almost entirely captured. The suspension of the offensive was to allow for the redeployment of SDF fighters to Afrin, which was formerly controlled by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the majority component of the SDF, before the advance of Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and their allies into the area.

As a consequence of the cessation of the Jazeera Storm Offensive, a large pocket of ISIS-held territory remained, which was located adjacent to the Iraqi border between the provinces of Deir ez-Zour and Harasta.

ISIS militants present on the Iraq-Syria border have carried out numerous cross-border attacks into Iraq and have provided logistical support and supplies to sleeper cells still present in the neighbouring Iraqi provinces of Anbar and Nineveh. In response to the border threat, Iraqi Border Forces, backed by the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), have reinforced the border and provided additional security to nearby towns to prevent any further infiltration by militants.

In April, the Iraqi Air Force took the previously unprecedented step of conducting an airstrike on the ISIS border pocket within Syrian territory. The airstrike, which reportedly killed 36 ISIS militants, including six militant leaders, was carried out in response to the ongoing border threat. Since the formal declaration of defeat against ISIS militants in Iraq in December 2017, security forces have prioritised maintaining security and eliminating all remaining militants in the region. The work of the security forces has particular importance in the run-up to the May 12th election, which ISIS has threatened to disrupt through the targeting of candidates.

In Syria, the SDF have vowed to end the remaining presence of ISIS in the areas east of the Euphrates River under SDF control. Doing so would be yet another major blow to the militant group, who controlled as much as 52% of Syrian territory at their height in mid-2016.