U.S.-supported Syrian forces have launched a new offensive to remove Islamic State from the militants’ last stronghold, the oil-rich eastern province of Deir al-Zour.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, Global Coalition forces and other local partners resumed their effort after suspending operations following Turkey's January attack against Syria's northwestern region of Afrin.
IS has intensified attacks in the area in recent weeks in an effort to reorganize, SDF spokeswoman Lilwa al-Abdallah said Tuesday.
"ISIS retains a significant presence near the Iraqi borders from which it seeks to retain safe haven to plan attacks around the world and expand its territory in Syria and Iraq," al-Abdallah said Tuesday, using an acronym for Islamic State.
The Deir al-Zor military council is fighting under the command of the SDF. Commander Ahmed Abu Khawla said they were collaborating with the Iraqi government and army to defeat the jihadists.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert predicted Tuesday, "The fighting will be difficult, but we and our partners will prevail."
U.S.-supported Syrian forces have inflicted heavy damage on IS, but the militant group still controls an area along the desert frontier with Iraq. IS is expected to resort to guerrilla warfare as it loses the last remnants of the territory.
The SDF alliance, led by the Kurdish YPG militia, has taken control of large tracts of land from IS in northern and eastern Syria. U.S. support for Kurdish forces there has angered Turkey, which views the YPG as an extension of an outlawed Kurdish rebellion in the country.