WASHINGTON — The anti-ISIS coalition continues a slow, harsh advancement into the last town held by the terrorists, slowed by landmines, car bombs and ambushes.
The coalition ground assault, led by Syrian Democratic Forces, had said it anticipated fully capturing the town of Baghouz by Sunday, commanders told reporters over the weekend.
“ISIS fighters have been using suicide vests and car bombs to slow down the SDF offensive and hide from Coalition strikes in the area of Baghouz,” Colonel Sean Ryan, a spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, said in an email to the media.
“They still hold civilians and are lacing the tunnels with (homemade bombs) as well,” he said.
U.S. forces are providing air support for the assault. The ground attack stops at night since SDF troops do not have night vision goggles and other equipment, Pentagon officials confirmed. That gives ISIS elements the opportunity to regroup and refortify, the officials said.
According to U.S. Central Command, U.S. and coalition forces carried out 211 airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria between February 10 and February 23.
Meanwhile, a report out Monday by the study group Critical Threats said that while ISIS may not have much land in eastern Syria, it remains a growing worldwide threat.
“The Islamic State is also alive and well in Africa,” the report said. “Militants affiliated with or inspired by the Islamic State have developed footholds across the continent, especially in regions facing instability, conflict, and poor governance.”
U.S. forces are currently engaged in Flintlock 2019 in Burkina Faso and Mauritania, part of a multi-nation anti-terrorism training exercise to combat ISIS and others in Africa.
“The Islamic State is not defeated in Syria or Africa because the conditions that permitted its rise remain,” the report said. “The Salafi-jihadi movement, which includes the Islamic State and al Qaeda, draws its strength not only from control of terrain but from its ability to build ties to populations made vulnerable by governance failures and war. Such conditions are spreading in Africa, and the Salafi-jihadi threat from the continent will only grow if we convince ourselves that the Islamic State is ‘defeated’.”