US-led coalition destroys Syrian mosque used as IS command center in Hajin

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Remaining IS militants are confined to network of tunnels and edges of Syrian town

US army vehicles support SDF near Hajin, Syria, against Islamic State on Saturday (AFP)
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Monday 17 December 2018 8:21 UTC
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The US-led coalition in Syria on Saturday destroyed a mosque in the town of Hajin that was used as an Islamic State (IS) group command and control centre, the US military said.

Hajin is the last big town that IS held in its remaining enclave east of the Euphrates River. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spearheaded by the Kurdish militia, have battled to eliminate the militants there for several months, Reuters said.

The coalition said that 16 heavily armed IS militants were using the mosque as a base to attack. "This strike killed these terrorists who presented an imminent threat, and eliminated another deadly…operational capability from the battlefield," the US military said in a statement.

The SDF has largely secured Hajin, the biggest settlement in what is the last pocket of territory controlled by IS, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday.

IS lost nearly all the territory it once held in Syria last year in separate offensives by the US-backed SDF on the one hand, and the Russian-backed Syrian army on the other.



Smoke billows from bombs near Hajin, Syria, on Saturday (AFP)

"After a week of heavy fighting and air strikes, the SDF were able to kick IS out of Hajin," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

The operation was completed at dawn, he said, a day after SDF forces fanned out across the large settlement in the Euphrates valley, the AFP news agency reported.

The last IS militants were confined to a network of tunnels and the edges of Hajin, which lies in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, about 30km from Iraq.

The area held by IS is sometimes referred to as the "Hajin pocket," the remainder of a once-sprawling "caliphate" the group proclaimed in 2014 over swathes of Syria and Iraq.

According to Abdel Rahman, about 17,000 fighters from the Kurdish-Arab SDF alliance are involved in the operation to flush IS out of its last bastion.

IS militants still control some desert terrain west of the river in territory that is otherwise held by the Damascus government and its allies.