WASHINGTON — The U.S.-backed ground forces fighting ISIS in Syria are reeling from a surprise fierce counter-attack whose intensity has surprised Pentagon analysts.
The ongoing ISIS attack, coupled with other factors, has brought to a halt the slow, steady progress made by Syrian Democratic Forces and other members in the U.S.-led coalition to capture the remaining land ISIS held by ISIS, Pentagon officials said.
“Things are currently in a standstill right now with the advance currently delayed,” Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command, told TMN in a email from Baghdad. “The counter attacks and regular attacks have been going on for months, although ISIS was able to push forward a bit due to the lack of air strikes the Coalition provides due to a sandstorm, which is why any progress from the enemy gained media attention.”
The counter-attack occurred on SDF positions on the eastern side of the Euphrates River, officials said. That is the unofficial demarcation line between where the U.S.-led coalition operates and to the west where Syrian government and Russian forces operate.
According to the independent, U.K-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “at least 40 SDF fighters were killed in the ISIS counter-attack,” according to news reports.
The SDF is comprised of mostly Kurdish and Arab fighters, Pentagon officials have said. They are the primary land element in the anti-ISIS coalition, with U.S. military advisers and advisers from other nations engaging with them, Pentagon officials have said.
The U.S. has about 3,000 troops in Syria, Pentagon officials have said.
In April, the U.S.-led coalition launched Operation Roundup, designed to reclaim the last land holdings of ISIS in Syria. Phase one consisted of general offensive actions against ISIS, while phase two focused on the liberation of Dashisha, which was completed in mid-July.
Phase three, designed to be the final offensive, is to retake Hajin, Syria, along the Euphrates River, and Abu Kemal, on the border with Iraq, along with surrounding areas.
From the outset Pentagon officials cautioned it would be a hard, long and costly effort because most of the remaining ISIS were foreigners with no option but to say and fight. Ryan reaffirmed that Thursday.
“Last week was not the norm but we have been saying from the beginning, this will be a difficult battle,” Ryan told TMN. “The SDF has made tremendous progress over the last months so any discussion the enemy has the upper hand would be incorrect.”
As the U.S. and other coalition partners rushed to boost air and logistical support to the SDF to offset the counter-attack, the SDF found itself under duress against the Turkish military in northern Syria, according to news reports.
According to CNN, “the Turkish military had shelled SDF positions in northern Syria in recent days.”
CNN and SouthFront reported the SDF released a statement on Wednesday that said in part, “Turkish attacks in the north and ISIS attacks in the south against our troops had forced us to stop our current operation temporarily against ISIS in the last pocket of it. We also call the international community to condemn the Turkish provocations in the safe areas in Syria, and we demand our partners in the International Coalition to show a clear attitude and stop Turkey from launching attacks on the region.”