HASAKA, SYRIA - Using what was a strategic military base for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Kurdish-led forces are preparing an assault against an Islamic State stronghold in northeastern Syria.
Syrian forces fled the base last year and IS fighters took it over. The Syrian Democratic Forces — a group of Kurdish, Arab and Christian fighters — gained control of the base from IS in the southern part of Hasaka a few weeks ago.
Amid the ruins of war left over by IS, Kurds are looking for more advances against the group.
"Our goal is to free the entire southern Hasaka region from Daesh," Kurdish Colonel Talal Silo, a spokesperson of the SDF, told VOA using the Arabic acronym for IS.
IS maintains a strong presence in al-Shaddadi, 60 kilometers south of al-Khamaiel town, where the SDF is now in control. The Kurds hope to use newly liberated areas as a staging point to make additional advances.
"Taking over areas such as al-Khamaiel is strategically important for our forces," Silo said.
So far, there have been sporadic clashes between IS militants and SDF fighters, according to military sources.
U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have played a decisive role in retaking larger swaths from IS fighters, local forces said.
"Our partnership with the U.S.-led coalition has been steady," Silo said. "And it will only continue to do so."
In southern Hasaka, coalition forces have coordinated closely with the SDF as its local partner in the war on IS.
"Coalition forces get involved as needed," Orkesh Ceziri, a commander with the Kurdish YPG, the main group that comprises the SDF, told VOA during a visit to the base this week.
"They hit Daesh positions based on battle needs," he said.
Coalition officials say the IS militants have been losing ground in Syria, with the help of airstrikes from coalition warplanes.
"When our airstrikes are coupled with local ground operations, we see ISIL [IS] having to react and move around the battlefield. This just makes it easier for us to strike them," said U.S. Colonel Steve Warren during a recent video briefing from Baghdad.
"We believe that ISIL is now in a defensive crouch," he said.
VOA's Sirwan Kajjo contributed to this report from Washington.