A road sign welcomes people to the town of Deir el-Zour in Syria, Sept. 20, 2017.
A road sign welcomes people to the town of Deir el-Zour in Syria, Sept. 20, 2017.

WASHINGTON - Islamic State (IS) militants pledged to fight to the death after U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the start of the final push to liberate the last IS pockets in the eastern countryside of Deir el-Zour. 

Suhaib Jaber, a Syrian journalist from Deir el-Zour working with the Euphrates Post, told VOA that IS urged its members, as well as civilians in the areas under its control, to unite and fight without negotiations or surrender.

“Disputes escalated between IS Syrian fighters and IS foreign fighters after the disappearance of their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The allegiance came to unite them in one battle,” Jaber said. 

IS has resorted to the “Allegiance of Death” tactic during its last hours in the areas under its control after being cornered during battles to free Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria.

Al Jazeera storm

The operation against the last IS pockets in Deir el-Zour, code named Al Jazeera Storm, was launched Sept. 9, 2017, and was stalled for months at the beginning of 2018 after SDF fighters shifted attention to fight the Turkish military incursion against the Kurdish-held area of Afrin, in north Syria. 

Deir el-Zour

The operation to liberate the last IS pockets in Deir el-Zour resumed May 1, 2018, as Kurdish fighters returned from the Afrin area. 

“Over the coming weeks, our heroic forces will liberate these areas, secure the Iraq-Syria border, and end the presence of ISIS in eastern Syria once and for all,” Leilwa Abdullah, spokesperson for the Al Jazeera Storm campaign, said in a statement. 

IS has launched a number of attacks in the past several months on SDF-controlled areas and locations controlled by Syrian government forces in an attempt to regain a foothold along the Euphrates River and expand its shrinking territories. 

“Despite considerable losses, ISIS retains capabilities to plan and coordinate attacks against the region and coalition homelands,” the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve said, using an acronym for the militant group, in an official statement.

Coalition forces have worked since 2016 with SDF forces to clear territory controlled by IS in Syria. 

On Sunday, U.S.-backed forces liberated the strategic village of Baguz on the Syrian side of the Iraqi border, closing the last border crossing in Deir el-Zour that IS can use to move between Syria and Iraq. 

IS leader

The chief of Iraqi intelligence told Fox News last week that according to information it has received, IS leader al-Baghdadi currently resides in Hajin, in eastern Deir el-Zour, 18 miles from the Iraqi border. 

Jaber, the Syrian journalist, said that according to local sources in Deir el-Zour, the Hajin area is too risky for al-Baghdadi to stay in because it is located on the confrontation line with coalition-backed SDF. 

Jaber added that al-Baghdadi is more likely to hide in the town of Al Shaer in the southern countryside of the Al-Hasakah governorate, where IS militants can still move through the Syrian-Iraqi borders. This is the same area that five top IS leaders crossed last week and were captured by Iraqi forces. 

IS still controls several pockets in Syria, including the towns of Al Sha'fah and Hajin, and the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, where U.S.-backed SDF operates.