WASHINGTON — The expected final phase of military operations against ISIS in Syria is underway after weeks of air and artillery operations to soften the terrorists in their last significant land redoubt.
A statement from Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve said Syrian elements of the U.S.-led coalition launched ground operations on Monday along a stretch of the Middle Euphrates River Valley against ISIS positions.
The ground offensive is by elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the statement said. It was unclear the role of any U.S. ground forces are in the assault in any capacity.
A key focus on the offensive is the city of Hajin, one of the last areas of size held by ISIS. The SDF plans a four-sided attack on the area, according to reports.
Operation Roundup began May 1. Phase One concluded on May 15 with the clearing of ISIS from in and around Baghuz in northeastern Syria. Phase Two began almost immediately after that and ended on July 20, when ISIS was removed from in and around Dashisha, Syria.
Pentagon and coalition officials have said on several occasions there are at least 1,000 ISIS fighters in Hajin, along the Euphrates River, and Abu Kemal, on the border with Iraq. That number has remained static despite advances against ISIS throughout 2018.
“(There is) a hardcore of ISIS fighters who have been digging in and preparing …holding civilians as human shields… and we fully expect to see a high proportion of foreign terrorist who represents the biggest threat to our nations,” Coalition spokesperson Major Felix Gedney told reporters on July 31. “Because it is one of the last areas they hold, the fight to dislodge them will be difficult.”