ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The US-led coalition on Thursday announced it would no longer support the operations of the Syrian armed opposition group known as Shuhada al-Qaryatayn, or “Shuq,” since the group engaged in activities other than fighting the Islamic State (IS).
“The coalition only supports the forces committed to fighting IS,” said Army Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, as he gave an update to reporters on the fight against the extremist group in Iraq and Syria.
The colonel stated the Shuhada al-Qaryatayn group would no longer receive the backing of the US for having objectives “not consistent with defeating IS.”
“One of our partner forces unilaterally, without the US or coalition permission or coordination, conducted patrols outside of the agreed de-escalation zone and engaged in the activities not focused on fighting IS” in southern Syria, Dillon noted.
This is the first time the US has cut ties with a Syrian opposition group with which they were coordinating.
Dillon acknowledged Shuq’s role as a partner to the Coalition on the ground and confirmed the US is in talks with the fighters to recover equipment provided in the war against IS.
While Dillon could not confirm, Shuq militants are believed to have attacked forces loyal to the Syrian government north of the al-Tanf area.
Dillon did suggest fighting the regime could be one their objectives, which is “not in line with the Coalition’s focus on defeating IS.”
The Shuq group, an armed force comprised of local Arab fighters and affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), remains in al-Tanf, one of three official border crossings between Iraq and Syria.
The move is likely related to the Trump administration’s decision to suspend the CIA program set up in 2013 under former President Barack Obama to equip and train certain vetted rebels against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Dillon stated the US would continue to support “vetted forces that are committed to fighting IS,” without providing further details.
The spokesman highlighted the success of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has retaken 45 per cent of Raqqa, IS’ de facto capital in Syria.
The operation has been ongoing for over 50 days, and SDF troops gained 23 square kilometers of terrain over the past week despite “stiff and sporadic resistance.”
“The distance between the western and eastern axis is less than a kilometer,” Dillon said, noting they would gain full control of southern Raqqa once they link up.
He also mentioned there are less than 2,000 IS militants left in Raqqa.
As for Iraq, Dillon highlighted there had been no airstrikes in Mosul for nearly two weeks, and last Tuesday marked the first day without Iraqi security forces casualties in the city.
The Coalition spokesman revealed they estimate less than 1,000 extremists remain in the strongholds of Hawija near Kirkuk, as well as Tal Afar, north of Mosul.
He also claimed a thousand of them are in al-Qaim at the border with Syria.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany