Beirut (AFP) – Since February 9 the Arab-Kurdish alliance of the Syrian Democratic Forces backed by the US have been on an offensive against the last dregs of the Islamic State group in Syria.
After more than a week ferocious fighting, here are some key events:
– February 9: The SDF announces it has begun the “decisive battle” to take the last scrap of territory from the Islamic State group — a tiny patch of four-square-kilometres (one-square-mile) in eastern Syria.
– February 10: “There are heavy clashes at the moment. We have launched an assault and the fighters are advancing,” an SDF commander says. Up to 600 jihadists are believed to remain inside, according to the alliance, along with several hundreds of civilians.
– February 11: “The SDF are advancing slowly”, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, but landmines, IS snipers, and tunnels dug out by extremists are hindering the advance. At least 16 civilians are killed in US-led coalition air raids, the Observatory says.
– February 12: Two French women who escape the area tell AFP more foreigners remain trapped inside the tiny pocket of territory and are barred from leaving by jihadists.
US President Donald Trump tells a rally in the US city El Paso that the coalition could declare victory over IS in the region in the coming days. “Our brave warriors have liberated virtually 100 percent of ISIS (territory) in Iraq and Syria,” he says.
– February 13: With their sniper attacks and suicide bombers the jihadists make a desperate last stand against the offensive, complicating the SDF advance. Hundreds of people continue to flee.
– February 14: Bruising counter-attacks by the jihadists force the alliance to retreat. SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin says it is impossible to provide accurate figures but he estimates the total number of fighters, men and women, at around 1,000.
– February 15: The alliance clears landmines and searches for tunnels that are blocking their advance.
“We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate and that will be announced over the next 24 hours,” Trump tells reporters at the White House.
– February 16: Victory is to be announced in “a few days”, a top commander of the US-backed forces in Syria announces, saying the delay has been due to large number of civilians still on the battlefield.
Trump asks European allies to take back more than 800 IS fighters who were captured in Syria.
– February 17: According to the SDF the jihadists are now pinned down in a tiny patch of less than half a square kilometre on the banks of the Euphrates river near the Iraqi border.