Report: U.S.-Backed Syrian Forces Take Islamic State-Held Town

BEIRUT (Reuters) -

Syrian fighters backed by the United States have driven the Islamic State terror group from the town of Hajin in eastern Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitoring group said on Friday.

Hajin is the last big town held by Islamic State in its remaining pocket of territory east of the Euphrates River near the border with Iraq. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, has been battling to finish off Islamic State for several months in the area.

SDF officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

SDF commander-in-chief Mazloum Kobani told Reuters on Thursday that at least 5,000 Islamic State terrorists remain holed up in the pocket of territory including Hajin and that they had decided to fight to the death.

This includes some 2,000 foreign fighters, mostly Arabs and Europeans along with their families.

Kobani also said it was possible that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was in eastern Syria, but the SDF could not be sure because he often disappears.

Islamic State was driven from nearly all the territory it once held in Syria last year in separate campaigns waged by the U.S.-backed SDF on the one hand, and the Russian-backed Syrian government on the other.

The U.S.-backed effort has focused on areas east of the Euphrates River. Islamic State militants still control some desert terrain west of the river in territory that is otherwise controlled by the Damascus government and its allies.