U.S. and coalition forces have increased airstrikes and artillery fire against Islamic State fighters in support of Operation Roundup, a new offensive aimed at defeating the terrorist group in eastern Syria.
Syrian Democratic Forces have resumed offensive ground operations against the remaining concentrations of terrorist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria on the eastern side of the Euphrates River, British Army Maj. Gen. Felix Gedney, deputy commander of strategy and support for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday.
In the first phase of the operation, the SDF is securing the southeast portion of the Syrian-Iraqi border, "eliminating ISIS resistance and establishing defensive positions" in coordination with the Iraqi Security Forces, operating on Iraq's side of the border, Gedney said.
Since May 1, U.S. and coalition forces have carried out 40 strikes against ISIS targets, he said.
"Coalition forces are supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces maneuver by conducting air, artillery and mortar strikes against ISIS targets," Gedney said, describing how the increase in strikes have destroyed "eight ISIS-held buildings, six logistical assets, two explosive factories and two weapons caches."
Gedney said it is difficult to estimate how many ISIS fighters hold ground in eastern Syria, but said it is "too many." He also could not estimate how long Operation Roundup would take to complete.
"It is absolutely clear that those final areas are going to be a difficult fight," he said, adding that "we are going to continue our aggressive pace of operations in our own strikes" until the areas are cleared.
There are signs that the new offensive is already having a "devastating effect on ISIS," Gedney said.
"Observations from eastern Syria suggest that morale among ISIS fighters is sinking," he said. "Frictions are mounting between native and foreign-born ISIS fighters as ISIS' privileged leadership continues to flee the area, leaving fighters with dwindling resources and low morale."
Despite the progress that has been made east of the Euphrates, coalition officials are concerned that ISIS fighters seem to have more freedom of movement on the western side of the river, which is under the control of pro-Syrian regime forces, Gedney said.
"We remained concerned about ISIS' freedom west of the river Euphrates; it seems they have some freedom of action still because they have not been properly defeated by the pro-regime forces," he said.
Gedney stressed, however, that the "coalition will relentlessly pursue ISIS, wherever they are, until they are defeated."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.