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US-backed fighters raid one of last ISIS villages in Syria

Syrian Democratic Forces watch as a coalition airstrike hits ISIS target near the Iraq-Syria border, May 13, 2018. (Army Staff Sgt. Timothy R. Koster/Department of Defense)
September 17, 2018

U.S.-backed forces in Syria made a push for an ISIS-controlled stronghold over the weekend.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) backed by the U.S. stormed the town of Bagouz and pressed close to the center over the weekend just a day after extremists killed 20 fighters, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

SDF forces plan to launch another attack from the Sousseh area adjacent to the Euphrates River as a means of increasing pressure on the ISIS village, the AP said.

SDF forces have collaboratively launched a mass offensive this week with the U.S.-led coalition to target the last area in Syria held by ISIS, the AP said, noting that SDF forces have already successfully pushed ISIS out of eastern Syria.

An SDF commander, who identified himself as “Shergo” in a video statement, said although the fighting has been intense, SDF forces control nearly half of the Bagouz area. “We will take all this place from [ISIS],” Shergo said, the AP reported.

Approximately 53 ISIS extremists have been killed in the latest offensive on Bagouz, although 38 SDF forces have also been killed.

On Friday, the SDF increased its forces by 1,000 fighters to strengthen their held positions, as well as new offensive attacks.

ISIS media wing al-Furqan published an unconfirmed audio message from ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in August, who hasn’t been heard from since Sept. 28, 2017.

The audio, which has yet to be confirmed, is a 55-minute segment that includes al-Baghdadi acknowledging that ISIS groups are being defeated but said this is a test from Allah, CNN had reported.

He tells listeners they need to stay close because they are being tested with “fear and hunger” but said “glad tidings” will be given to those who “patiently persevere.”

An ISIS-backed media outlet said the ISIS terrorists have been targeting SDF forces throughout Bagouz with “mortar rounds, roadside bombs, and sniper fire,” the AP reported, which has inflicted numerous casualties.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIS has used tunnels and landmines to attack the SDF, the AP said, noting that at least 100 women and 30 men – some of whom were ISIS fighters – along with children, had surrendered to SDF forces.

Intense clashes on Friday led to the deaths of at least 20, according to a statement from Kurdish official Ebrahim Ebrahim, the AP reported. The Observatory also reported the deaths, saying ISIS extremists ambushed SDF forces during a sandstorm, killing 20 and wounded more in eastern Syria.

However, an SDF statement only confirmed two deaths and six injuries on Friday.

A Department of Defense report stated there is an estimated “13,100 to 14,500 ISIS fighters” who remain in Syria. Another 4,000 to 6,000 are said to be in northeastern Syria where the U.S. military operates.

The Defense Department also confirmed that U.S. forces will support a “longer-term presence” in Syria until “100 percent of ISIS-held territory in Syria” is liberated and ISIS is no longer able to “direct, inspire, or enable attacks against the U.S homeland or U.S. persons or interests.”