US-backed Kurdish-Arab joint force sets sights on Hasakah province

Published November 2nd, 2015 - 12:51 GMT

A joint rebel force in Syria consisting of Sunni Arabs, Assyrians and Kurds announced it was launching an offensive to liberate portions of the country's northeastern al-Hasakah province from Islamic State (Daesh) militants.

The Syrian Democratic Forces announced its formation last month, asserting the need for the "establishment of a unified national military force to all Syrians consisting of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and all others living in the geographical locations of Syria."

The group has US backing and comprises a series of units under the Syrian Arab Coalition, The Syriac Military Council and Kurdish forces known as the People's Defense Units, or YPG, and the Women's Defense Units, or YPJ.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Saturday quoted the SDF as announcing the "start of a campaign to liberate the southern countryside of al-Hasakah with the participation of all factions of Syrian Democratic Forces and the support of US-led coalition warplanes."

The group said it would not stop until the entire province was cleared of IS forces, and it referred to the offensive as "the first step of our military action within a plan of liberating the whole [of] Syria from the terrorist gangs."

Kurdish YPG forces earlier this year enjoyed a series of victories over IS forces north of Raqqa, the self-declared capital of IS territory, capturing roads and villages that deprived the extremists of supply lines from Turkey. In January, Kurdish forces, supported by US airstrikes, fought off IS forces from the northern city of Kobane after months of battle.

However, the YPG was stopped short of Raqqa and has fought back-and-forth battles with IS in northeastern Syria throughout the year.

Kurdish peshmerga forces in northern Iraq, meanwhile, are preparing for an offensive against the town of Sinjar. CNN reported airstrikes have been concentrated on IS positions in the town in recent days. The force reportedly includes up to 5,000 Yazidis, a Kurdish religious minority predominant to the Ninevah province, where Sinjar is located.

IS forces killed thousands of Yazidis after capturing Sinjar in August 2014, besieging tens of thousands more on Mount Sinjar and prompting an intervention by a US-led coalition, which, assisting peshmerga forces, helped evacuate up to 50,000 Yazidis after breaking the siege. The coalition has since then conducted airstrikes against IS in both Iraq and Syria.

The announcement of the al-Hasakah offensive came one day before IS forces in central Syria's Homs province captured the town of Maheen, 8 miles from a highway linking the province to the capital, Damascus. The militants also launched an attack on the adjacent town of Sadad, which has a majority Assyrian Christian population.

By Fred Lambert

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