U.S.-backed fighters launched a new offensive on Saturday to oust the Islamic State group from swaths of Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province, a top commander announced.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are already fighting for IS’s de facto capital in Raqqa, and they will now aim to clear the jihadists from territory east of the Euphrates River, said Ahmad Abu Khawlah.
Abu Khawlah, who heads the SDF’s Deir Ezzor Military Council (DEMC), read the statement at a press conference in the village of Abu Fas in Syria’s northeast Hasakeh province.
He said his forces had begun fighting to push IS out of remaining territory in Hasakeh province and further south in the strategically vital province of Deir Ezzor.
“Pivoting towards Deir Ezzor was inevitable…. We are taking the first step to liberate territory east of the Euphrates River in Deir Ezzor,” Abu Khawlah told AFP.
Since 2014, IS has held swaths of the eastern province, which border Iraq, and about 60 percent of the provincial capital, Deir Ezzor city. Saturday’s announcement came as Russia-backed Syrian regime forces were waging a separate offensive to oust IS from the city.
“We are not coordinating with the regime or with Russia. We are coordinating with the international coalition,” said Abu Khawlah.
He said U.S.-led coalition air strikes had already helped them advance “around 30 kilometers (20 miles)” in their first clashes.
The coalition has carried out air strikes against IS in Syria since 2014 and is now backing the SDF’s assault to retake Raqqa from the jihadists.
The SDF has seized around 65 percent of Raqqa since it first entered the city in early June.