US-backed fighters were advancing today against Islamic State group jihadists hiding out in a small sliver of desert in eastern Syria, the force and a monitor said.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, has been bearing down on the small IS-held zone along the Euphrates River since May 1.
"It is now being cleared of anything left behind by Daesh, including mines, and we are looking for any IS members hiding in tunnels or other locations," Gabriel said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
Gabriel said the operation was carried out in coordination with Iraqi government forces and the US-led coalition.
The SDF has already driven IS out of large parts of northern and eastern Syria, including the onetime jihadist capital of Raqa, with help from the coalition's air strikes, weapons and special forces advisors.
It has already cleared around 64 square kilometres since then, the coalition said on social media. The coalition published images of General Joseph Votel, the commander of US troops in the Middle East, shaking hands with SDF commanders.
"Coalition and US Generals meet our SDF partners to gain a better understanding of the fight against Daesh in the Middle Euphrates River Valley," it wrote.
After several months of relatively few air strikes in Syria, it ramped up its bombing raids at the beginning of this month to back the SDF's ground operations.
It said 18 IS fighters were also killed in coalition strikes and fighting in Al-Bahra, a village further north along the river. The monitor said IS still controlled three main villages in the area: Hajjin, Sousa, and Al-Shaafa.
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