'Islamic State' will be defeated in Syria within a month: commander



Remnants of an IS vehicle after a recent defeat in Syria. [SDF] 

Military operations against the "Islamic State" (IS) in Syria are wrapping up, and the last pockets of the group's fighters will be flushed out within a month, a top commander said.

"The operation of our forces against IS in its last pocket has reached its end and IS fighters are now surrounded in one area," said Mazloum Kobani, who heads the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

With backing from the international coalition, the SDF are in the last phase of an operation to defeat the group in its Euphrates Valley holdouts in eastern Syria.

"We need a month to eliminate IS remnants still in the area," Kobani said Thursday from near the north-eastern Syrian city of al-Hasakeh.


Mazloum Kobani, commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces, speaks with AFP during an interview in the countryside outside the Syrian city of al-Hasakeh on January 24th. [Delil Souleiman/AFP] 

Intense fighting in the area known as "the Hajin pocket" has left hundreds dead on both sides, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

'Sleeper cells'

IS lost the town of Hajin late last year and the subsequent collapse of its defences saw the Arab-Kurd alliance conquer one village after another.

Kobani said the battle had been complicated as IS shifted its strategy after the SDF ousted the group from its de-facto Syrian capital of al-Raqa in 2017.

New tactics include "sleeper cells everywhere, secretly recruiting people again, and carrying out suicide operations, bombings, and assassinations", he said.

"We expect there will be an increase in the intensity of IS operations against our forces after the end of their military presence," he said.

IS has retained a presence in Syria's vast Badiya desert and has claimed a series of attacks in SDF-held territory.

The SDF have been the main ground partner in Syria of the international coalition, and have recently turned to the Syrian regime to guarantee their survival, though Kobani said negotiations were proving difficult.

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Russia destroyed only schools and hospitals in Syria. But the West fought ISIL.