Major General Kenneth Ekman reaffirmed U.S. support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as the opposition troops complete a second phase of operations against Daesh.
“Overall the SDF is a strong, capable force and we are committed with our partnership with them,” he said at a press conference Wednesday.
According to Ekman, ISIS/Daesh has a “residual presence” in rural areas of Syria, roving mountains and caves as a “low-level insurgency,” a significant regression from its stated goal of establishing an Islamic regime.
“That’s what keeps us there, by the way,” Ekman said. While ISIS no longer holds territory, it still poses a threat to local Syrians and has intensified anti-civilian attacks in recent months.
“What we do … is seek them out wherever they seek sanctuary to eliminate them.”
On Friday, the Kurdish-led SDF launched phase two of “Deterrence of Terrorism,” a four-day campaign to target ISIS cells in the northern countryside. The operation came at the request of concerned civilian leaders in the region for increased stability, according to Deir Ezzor Military Council spokeswoman Lilwa al-Abdulla.
The #SDF “Deterrence of Terrorism” (Phase 2) operation to bust ISIS terrorists networks continues in southern Hasakah & Deir ez Zor provinces. Great progress. @vvanwilgenburg has details in @K24English. ???????????? Follow: @cmoc_sdf @CJTFOIR @SOJTFOIR for updates. #DefeatDaesh https://t.co/G7tZZzenEr pic.twitter.com/M63X9sDIuQ— OIR Spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III (@OIRSpox) July 19, 2020
U.S. troops supported the operation with “advising, intelligence sharing, and occasionally partnered special operations,” spokesman and Col. Myles Caggins told Voice of America (VOA).
The SDF website reported a successful campaign. SDF forced captured 31 terrorists, including a senior ISIS official, and confiscated weapons, equipment and a storehouse containing more than one thousand mortar sells.
Syrian and coalition forces conducted the first phase of “Deterrence of Terrorism” in early June, resulting in the capture of 110 ISIS members.
“This military campaign “might help to disrupt IS attacks to some degree, but I think we are going to be stuck with a ‘steady-state’ IS insurgency in the province at best,” Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a Syria researcher at Swansea University in the U.K., told VOA.
Ekman confirmed ISIS’ status in the press briefing, explaining that complete eradication of ISIS is neither possible nor the goal of the coalition forces in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. mission remains to restrict ISIS from acquiring territory and terrorizing the local people.
However, many officials and analysts are concernced that infighting among the Kurdish opposition troops, as well as conflict between Russia and the coalition units, may not effectively stabilize the region.
Forces with various national interests interact every day, according to Ekman. The U.S. and Russia have established “protocols” to ensure “deconfliction,” and Ekman claims they have had no major incidents.
A soldier for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. campaign against ISIS, died in what appears to be a vehicle accident while on a standard patrol Tuesday.
“Initial reports indicate the incident was not due to enemy contact,” the mission said in a statement. “The incident is under investigation.”
Four U.S. soldiers have died in hostile interactions this year and five in accidents under Operation Inherent Resolve.