Major anti-ISIS operation launched in Syria amid resurgence fears

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The Syrian Democratic Forces announced over the weekend that it has launched the "campaign to deter terrorism" in eastern Syria, one of the largest operations against ISIS since the fall of the militant group's so-called "caliphate" in 2019.

Unconfirmed reports estimated that 6,000 troops are taking part in the mission, which is being carried out in the area between Hasaka and the border with Iraq and around Deir Ezzor.

The mission is supported with "technical advice and eyes in the sky" from the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and in co-ordination with the Iraqi military.

A statement released by the SDF's general command said that ISIS attacks have increased recently, posing a "real threat to people's safety, security and stability".

It said that their forces have begun an operation on Thursday to "pursue and track the cells of the ISIS terrorist organisation in the eastern Badia (Syrian Desert), along the Khabour River and the Syrian-Iraqi border".

"The campaign will target ISIS hideouts and hotbeds, which are a source for concern to the people and that work to disturb security and stability in the region, as well threatening the return of ISIS," it said.

A mask-clad civil society volunteer marches with an effigy depicting the SARS-CoV-2 virion, the agent responsible for the COVID-19 coronavirus disease, during an awareness campaign about the novel coronavirus pandemic, urging people to remain at home, in Syria's northwestern city of Idlib in Idlib province on March 24, 2020. (Photo by Abdulaziz KETAZ / AFP)

Syrian Kurdish passengers who were stranded in Damascus arrive in Qamishli in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province on April 5, 2020, after being stranded in Damascus for the past weeks. (Photo by DELIL SOULEIMAN / AFP)

A drone image taken on April 9, 2020, shows a sanitation worker disinfecting a camp for displaced Syrians next to the Idlib municipal stadium in the northwestern Syrian city, during a campaign to limit the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. (Photo by OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP)

A medic checks the body temperature of young passengers, as a preventive measure against the coronavirus, upon their arrival by bus in Syria's Kurdish area from Iraqi Kurdistan via the Semalka border crossing in northeastern Syria on February 26, 2020. (Photo by Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

A picture taken on April 27, 2020 shows Syrians who returned from Turkey standing at a quarantine facility in the countryside of the town of Jisr al-Shughur, west of the mostly rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib, on April 27, 2020 during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. / AFP / Abdulaziz KETAZ

epa08392436 A truck for prevention against the COVID-19 coronavirus disease, operated by local NGO 'Violet Organization', drives through the streets of Idlib, Syria, 29 April 2020. EPA/YAHYA NEMAH

Artist Aziz al-Asmar paints a mural wishing for the well-being of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in quarantine after being treated by a doctor who tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), inside a damaged building in the town of Binnish in Syria's northwestern Idlib province on March 24, 2020. (Photo by Muhammad HAJ KADOUR / AFP)

A member of the Kurdish Internal Security Forces of Asayesh urges children to return home, in Syria's northeastern city of Hasakeh on April 30, 2020, following measures taken by the Kurdish-led local authorities there, to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. / AFP / DELIL SOULEIMAN

Syrian boys pose for a picture during an awareness workshop on Coronavirus (COVID-19) held by Doctor Ali Ghazal at a camp for displaced people in Atme town in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, near the border with Turkey, on March 14, 2020. (Photo by AAREF WATAD / AFP)

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on March 20, 2020 shows Syrian Red Crescent vehicles spraying disinfectant along a street in the capital Damascus, as part of measures against the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus disease. (Photo by - / SANA / AFP) / == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / SANA" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ==

A volunteer from the Violet organisation disinfects a mosque in Syria's northwestern city of Idlib on April 25, 2020, from coronavirus (COVID-19) during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. (Photo by OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP)

Only a few people walk in the century-old covered bazaar of Hamidiya in Syria's capital Damascus on March 24, 2020, after measures were taken by the authorities to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic. - Across much of the Syrian capital, with squares and markets once thronging with people even during the war, are now almost entirely empty. Five cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the country since Sunday, and the authorities have ordered all non-essential businesses closed. (Photo by LOUAI BESHARA / AFP)

Researchers are examining the possibility of using inhalers to introduce stem cells into a patients lungs. OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP

A member of the Syrian Violet NGO disinfects a triage tent erected for suspected coronavirus patients outside the Ibn Sina Hospital in Syria's northwestern Idlib city on March 19, 2020. - Syrian authorities on March 13 announced measures aimed at preventing coronavirus from reaching the war-torn country, including school closures and a ban on smoking shisha in cafes, state media reported. (Photo by Abdulaziz KETAZ / AFP)

A young pupil follows a lesson on a mobile telephone inside a tent, in a camp for displaced Syrians in the village of Kafr Yahmoul in the northwestern Idlib province, amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 3, 2020. - Like in much of the world, educators in Syria are taking classes online after the country's various regions sent pupils home hoping to stem the COVID-19 pandemic. But distance learning is no small feat in a country battered by nine years of war, where fighting has displaced millions and the electricity supply is sporadic at best. (Photo by Aref TAMMAWI / AFP)

According to members of the SDF on social media, 40 ISIS "gang" members have already been detained, and six tunnels and bunkers destroyed.

The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in the Middle East has provided a distraction that some believe ISIS have been exploiting to step-up operations, stoking fears of a resurgence.

Although the group has continued to stage attacks since the collapse of its physical territory in March 2019, it has carried out a series of large-scale attacks in Iraq and Syria over the last two months. Experts have said that the strikes have also become more sophisticated and complex.

At the end of last month, the group released a statement online that said changes in the region were offering "greater opportunities" than they have had over "the past decade”.

According to the

Spokesperson for the Global Coalition, Myles B Caggins III, told The National that the SDF are conducting a "massive" anti-ISIS operation in eastern Syria.

“The international military coalition is supporting the SDF—specifically for anti-ISIS operations—with technical advice on planning and tactics, as well as intelligence sharing, including drones and air support," he said.

"This is the largest SDF operation in 2020 and includes security along the Syria-Iraq border to disrupt ISIS smuggling routes.”

The Global Coalition met virtually last Thursday to discuss the creation of conditions to end the fight against the terrorist group.

"While ISIS no longer controls territory and nearly eight million people have been freed from its control in Iraq and Syria, the threat remains and thus calls for stronger vigilance and co-ordinated actions," they said in a summary of the meeting on the coalition's website.

At its height, ISIS controlled 88,000 square kilometres of land stretching across Syria and Iraq, but lost its last territory, the small town of Baghouz, to SDF fighters last year.

Updated: June 7, 2020 03:39 PM

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