The suspension of the Deir al-Zour offensive in March allowed the Islamic State to embed across a swath of desert along Syria’s border with Iraq. Estimates for the number of militants remaining across the two countries range between 1,000 and 3,000.
With Turkey firmly in control of Afrin, the SDF is turning its attention back to battling the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS.
“We have rearranged our forces,” Kino Gabriel, a spokesman for the SDF, said on Tuesday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week that he expected a “reenergized” effort against remnants of the Islamic State in eastern Syria. A U.S.-led military coalition has backed the ground operation with airstrikes since June 2014, forcing the Islamic State’s near-defeat but also leveling districts and causing mounting civilian casualties along the way.
The U.S. role in Syria remains uncertain, however, as President Trump pushes for a speedy withdrawal while Mattis and other administration officials encourage a slower drawdown.
In a statement Tuesday, Maj. Gen. James B. Jarrard, commanding general of the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State, said the coalition would “ensure the liberation of all terrain held by ISIS.”
“This is a key milestone in bringing lasting stability to both Iraq and Syria,” he said.
According to the SDF, Islamic State fighters have stepped up attacks in recent weeks, repeatedly targeting the U.S.-backed force.
“They are in their last strongholds now, and these contain a big number of jihadis. We know there will be a higher number of suicide attacks, of car bombs and of the explosives that they have planted,” Gabriel said.