The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have seized dozens of positions since beginning their assault on Saturday. But they have faced ferocious counter attacks from battle-hardened jihadis who stayed to defend their remaining territory. The SDF estimates between 400 and 600 militants remain inside the ISIS enclave, including foreigners who travelled to fight for the extremist group.
SDF forces, spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, have been forced to advance cautiously due to mines placed by ISIS fighters.
At its height in 2015, ISIS controlled huge swathes of Syria and Iraq, but the extremist group has since been forced back into a small pocket of territory in eastern Syria close to the Iraqi border.
Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, said: “The clashes are ferocious naturally because the terrorist group is defending its last stronghold.”
With the support of US airstrikes, the SDF said it had seized 41 positions from ISIS militants and repelled a series of counter attacks early on Sunday.
Between 500 to 1,000 civilians are estimated to be inside the terror group’s territory, Bali said.
More than 20,000 civilians were evacuated in the 10 days leading up to the battle.
Bali said: “If we can, in a short time frame, get the civilians out or isolate them, I believe that the coming few days will witness the military end of the terrorist organisation in this area.”
US President Donald Trump predicted this week that ISIS will have lost all of its territory by next week.
He has previously announced that US forces would withdraw from Syria by April.
Addressing representatives of the 79-member coalition fighting Isis, he said: “It should be formally announced some time, probably next week, that we will have 100 percent of the caliphate.”
However a top US general warned last week that Islamic State would pose an enduring threat after the US leaves.
General Joseph Votel, head of Central Command, said the terror group still has leaders, fighters, facilitators and resources.
He told a Senate hearing: “We do have to keep pressure on this network… They have the ability of coming back together if we don’t.”