A coalition spokesman said hard core ISIS fighters, including foreign fighters, still remain in the Euphrates river valley.
In recent months the SDF have been fighting ISIS in villages and hamlets in the Syrian Jazeera desert, a desolate area near the border with Iraq. While the SDF does most of the fighting, the US and other Coalition members advise and assist in the battle. This includes airstrikes and sometimes artillery strikes as well as support on the ground. The difficulty is finding the enemy. “They are going back to the areas in Dashisha to clear IEDs,” says Col. Ryan. “One issue we found is that ISIS had robust tunnels and some left by oil companies to store supplies and ISIS fighters were living in the tunnels with food and water.” You could drive over the tunnels and never know they were there. So the war has greatly shifted from what it looked like last year, a more conventional battle against an enemy that held ground, to hunting down ISIS fighters who hide among civilians and come out at night from caves and tunnels. In July the SDF completed the second phase of what was dubbed “Operation Roundup,” the clearing of ISIS from eastern Syria. Now they want to take a small patch of land that ISIS holds near the Euphrates valley.
“ISIS is not holding valuable territory and they are out in the desert, some say they regained territory, what they do is go out to desert areas and set up base camps, I wouldn’t call that vital. This last phase is a tough fight, the fighters left are do-or-die terrorists and they will stay until the end.” There may be around 1,000-1,500 ISIS fighters left. With fewer enemy fighters the Coalition has been hard pressed to find targets to strike. Last year its daily strike reports were long and detailed, today they are published covering a week at a time. From July 23-29 the Coalition carried out only nine strikes. They hit lines of communication and several ISIS vehicles in Syria. This is in line with the description of how the Coalition has taken a more advisory role since the heavy fighting ended. Mainly the US is doing what’s called ISR, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance. This illustrates how competent the SDF have become at running a war. Many of them received some training from the Coalition.