BEIRUT (AP) — U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighters in northeastern Syria launched an operation Wednesday against suspected Islamic State militants in the area in retaliation for an attack by the extremist group there last month, according to a statement.
Syrian Democratic Forces said they raided “dozens of potential points and hideouts” in the city Raqqa — formerly held by the Islamic State group — and the surrounding area, and arrested dozens of suspected IS members. The U.S.-led coalition forces provided air cover and drone surveillance during the operation, the statement added.
The operation was in response to an IS attack on Raqqa in late December that killed six members of the Kurdish-led forces. The SDF also announced formation of a “joint operations room” backed by the international coalition aimed at targeting IS cells.
The Kurdish-led forces in Syria regularly carry out joint anti-IS patrols with the U.S.-led coalition . The patrols were temporarily halted late last year when Turkey launched a campaign of airstrikes against Kurdish groups in Syria in retaliation for a deadly November explosion in Istanbul. Ankara blamed Kurdish groups for the attack, an allegation the groups deny.
The SDF said that according to its intelligence, IS “is attempting to reorganize the terrorist cells and appointing new leaders” as well as “issuing instructions to move from individual to group terrorist attacks on the prisons” holding IS members.
More than 42,400 foreign fighters and some 23,200 Syrians accused of IS ties — and their families — are held in camps and prisons in northeastern Syria, according to a Human Rights Watch report last month. The report detailed dire conditions in the detention facilities and called for repatriation of the detained foreign nationals — most of them women and children — by their countries.
Western countries have repatriated an increasing number of their citizens from northeastern Syria, including most recently France, which returned a group of 32 minors and 15 women on Tuesday.