US-backed fighters clash with IS fighters in Syria
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US-backed fighters clash with IS fighters in Syria

Coalition forces pound jihadists with airstrikes more than a week after ‘caliphate’ was declared defeated

File - Heavy smoke rises above the Islamic State (IS) group's last remaining position in the village of Baghouz during battles with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the countryside of the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor on March 18, 2019. (Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)
File - Heavy smoke rises above the Islamic State (IS) group's last remaining position in the village of Baghouz during battles with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the countryside of the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor on March 18, 2019. (Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

US-backed Syrian fighters said Tuesday they were battling the Islamic State group in eastern Syria 10 days after declaring victory over the extremists.

Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said they were rooting out groups of militants who were hiding in and near the village of Baghouz.

The US-backed alliance was now “tracking down remnants of the terrorist group,” Bali said. “There are groups hiding in caves overlooking Baghouz.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the US-led coalition was still conducting airstrikes against IS. It added that senior IS commanders and prisoners held by the extremists were believed to be in the caves on the east bank of the Euphrates River.

Combination of pictures created on March 24, 2019 showing an assortment of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and explosive belts lying on the ground in the village of Baghouz, Syria. (GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP)

The SDF declared military victory over IS on March 23 after liberating what it said was the last pocket of territory held by the militants.

The US-led coalition said it was supporting sweeping operations with airstrikes on jihadist hideouts.

“The Syrian Democratic Forces continues to deny Daesh a physical space and influence in the area and work to deny them the resources they need to return,” coalition spokesman Scott Rawlinson told AFP on Monday, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

“In support of back-clearance operations, the coalition continues to conduct precision strike support in coordination with SDF,” he said.

The official said anti-IS operations are now focusing on “eroding” IS’s “capacity to regenerate and collaborate.”

The Observatory said more than a dozen coalition airstrikes have targeted IS hideouts in Baghouz since Sunday. Strikes hit caves and farmlands in the village where holdout jihadists are believed to be hiding, it said.

IS fighters also retain a presence in Syria’s vast Badia desert and various other hideouts, and have continued to claim deadly attacks in SDF-held territory.

Women and children who left the village of Baghouz waiting for aid supplies at the Al-Hol displaced persons camp, in Hassakeh province, Syria, March 31, 2019. (AP/Maya Alleruzzo)

Last week, IS killed seven US-backed fighters in an attack on a checkpoint in the northern city of Manbij, which is controlled by a local council linked to the SDF.

The Observatory on Tuesday said that nine suspected jihadists were captured in the former IS bastion of Raqa since Sunday.

The SDF has warned that a new phase has begun in anti-IS operations, following the defeat of the jihadist proto-state.

It appealed for sustained coalition assistance to help smash sleeper cells.

The “caliphate” proclaimed in mid-2014 by fugitive IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi started collapsing in 2017 when parallel offensives in Iraq and Syria wrested back its main urban hubs — Mosul and Raqqa.

The nearly five years of fighting against the most brutal jihadist group in modern history left major cities in ruins and populations homeless.

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