Damascus, The US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance has crossed into Deir Az Zor province for the first time as part of an offensive against ISIL, a Kurdish military source said on Tuesday.
The advance into the province, most of which is under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), is part of an operation to encircle and ultimately capture its de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa in the north of the country.
One aim of the campaign is to cut ISIL’s supply lines from Raqqa to Deir Az Zor province.
The move also expands the SDF’s area of operations against ISIL, which is being fought by all sides in the complex Syria conflict.
Later on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based monitoring group, reported that at least 11 people were killed and more than 35 wounded in air strikes in a town in northern Deir Az Zor province, in an area where US-led coalition warplanes have operated.
It was not clear whose air force had carried out the strikes, or if the incident was linked to the SDF advance, the Observatory said.
“Military operations of the SDF are now taking place within the provincial boundaries of [Deir Az Zor], from the north – so, via southern Hasaka (province),” the Kurdish military source told Reuters news agency.
The SDF, which includes the Kurdish YPG militia and other Arab fighting groups, captured some 15 villages from ISIL fighters in their incursion into the province, the source added, without specifying when this had taken place.
ISIL controls most of Deir Az Zor province apart from a Syrian government-held enclave in Deir Az Zor city and a nearby military airbase.
Different groups in Syria’s multi-sided conflict are fighting a number of separate battles against ISIL.
Syria’s army and its allies, backed by Russia, have been fighting back against ISIL assaults in Deir Az Zor city and have engaged in clashes with the group further west.