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ISIS ‘besieged’ in last bastion in Aleppo province

Militants were cut off in Al-Bab after forces loyal to President Assad government severed a road into the northern town

Published: Updated:

The ISIS militant group is “completely besieged” in its last major stronghold in Syria’s Aleppo province, a monitor said Monday, as pro-regime forces pressure the militants on several fronts. ISIS militants were cut off in Al-Bab after forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad’s government severed a road into the northern town, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

“Al-Bab is now completely besieged by the regime from the south, and the Turkish forces and rebels from the east, north and west,” the monitor said. The reported siege came as President Donald Trump Monday pledged that America and its allies would defeat the “forces of death” and keep radical militants from gaining a foothold on US soil.

“Today we deliver a message in one very unified voice to these forces of death and destruction – America and its allies will defeat you,” Trump said as he visited US Central Command, which plays a key role in the US-led mission to fight ISis in Iraq and Syria.

“We will defeat radical Islamic terrorism. And we will not allow to it take root in our country,” he said. Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said Syrian regime forces and allied militias captured the last route between Al-Bab and Raqa, the militants’ de facto capital in the country.

Clashes in Al-Bab

At least 11 pro-government fighters were killed Monday in ongoing clashes around Al-Bab, he added. Just 25 kilometers south of the Turkish border, the town is seen as a prize by nearly all sides in the complex war. Since December, Turkey-backed rebels known as the Euphrates Shield alliance have edged towards Al-Bab from the north.

“Al-Bab is more important for the Turks, who defined the town as a priority for their Euphrates Shield alliance,” said Syria expert Thomas Pierret. But the regime was eyeing territory around Al-Bab “to protect the eastern flank of Aleppo city” it recaptured in December, he said.

It also sought to use the town as a buffer, “preventing the Euphrates Shield from advancing south” deeper into Syria. Turkey and Russia back opposing sides in the war, but have joined forces in recent months to try to end to the conflict. They carried out their first joint bombing raids around Al-Bab in January after brokering a fragile ceasefire between rebels and regime forces.

ISIS is among several militant movements that have emerged during the conflict, which has left more than 310,000 people dead and displaced millions. At least 14 government fighters were killed in clashes with ISIS in the central province of Homs Monday, the Observatory said, as Assad’s forces sought to advance backed by heavy artillery and air strikes.

The UN said Monday ISIS was “militarily on the defensive” across the region, struggling to attract recruits and facing falling revenues from oil and extortion. But the UN report urged governments to be vigilant of ISIS efforts to find new revenue streams, citing concerns that journalists and aid workers travelling to areas recaptured from the militants could be targets for kidnapping.