The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are returning to the battle against the Islamic State following a pause to deal with clashes between their northern troops and Turkey, which included cross-border shelling by Turkish forces.
The SDF announced Sunday that its troops will resume offensive operations.
The return to fighting ISIS comes after “intensive diplomatic efforts” by the Operation Inherent Resolve coalition to defuse what the SDF said was a crisis on their borders, according to their press statement, which was shared on social media by the coalition.
During the pause, the SDF acknowledged that ISIS executed several successful counterattacks using vehicle-borne suicide bombs and ground troops.
“SDF general command saw the need to continue its operations and fulfill the final defeat of ISIS,” the press statement reads.
While offensive ground operations were temporarily paused on Nov. 1, airstrikes by the global coalition continued.
“Airstrikes continued to target ISIS command centers, destroying several targets and eliminating several groups of terrorists,” the SDF said.
Last week, the Inherent Resolve coalition conducted about 150 air and artillery strikes against ISIS in Syria, according to their weekly strike roundup.
ISIS' physical territory in the U.S.- and coalition-controlled eastern portion of Syria is largely limited to a small pocket in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, near the Iraq-Syria border.
Operations against ISIS outside of the river valley did continue during the break, though. One SDF special unit reportedly conducted a capture mission with support from coalition helicopters.
“The operation resulted in the arrest of a high-ranking commander of ISIS in Raqqa,” SDF officials said. "This demonstrates that ISIS still has roots and dormant cells in the liberated areas, and the need to continue this alliance and cooperation on the long term.”
The pause at the end of October wasn’t the first of its kind. Earlier this year, members of the SDF, which are a mix of Syrian Kurds and Arabs, headed to northern Syria to fight Turkish forces attempting to clear Kurdish groups from Afrin, near the Turkish border.
Turkey has long-standing qualms with Kurdish SDF fighters, who they say are aligned with terror groups like the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. The PKK is considered a terror group by both Washington and Ankara. SDF Kurdish fighters, though, are not.
“The SDF have been an essential coalition partner in the defeat of ISIS in Syria,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement that announced the operational pause earlier this month. “We are equally committed to the security of Turkey and urge all parties to show restraint to de-escalate the current situation and ensure maximum pressure continues against ISIS. Unity of focus on the defeat of ISIS is imperative.”
In order to calm SDF concerns that their local forces would be further attacked by Turkey, the U.S. military conducted a series of “assurance patrols” with them last week near where the cross-border clashes occurred.
U.S. and Turkish troops are also conducting joint patrols now in the vicinity of Manbij, a town in northern Syria.
Following the initial pause in operations in early November, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke by phone with Turkish Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar on Nov. 2 to discuss bilateral issues.
“The leaders agreed yesterday’s first combined patrols northwest of Manbij, Syria, were an important step toward de-escalating tensions along the border and maintaining security and stability in the region,” the Pentagon said at the time.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.