Islamic State (IS) militants killed 23 US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters in an attack on SDF positions in the Euphrates River Valley (Deir Al-Zor province) late (local time) on Sunday, January 6, into Monday, January 7. At least nine IS militants were also killed in the assault. The IS fighters reportedly launched the attack during a sandstorm, briefly taking control of some SDF positions before an SDF counteroffensive pushed them back on Monday morning. Similar IS attacks on SDF positions are possible in Deir Al-Zor province over the near term, particularly during periods of bad weather.
The attack notably comes after US President Donald Trump announced the US's intent to withdraw American troops from Syria. The US Department of Defense and White House staff confirmed the decision, though it is unclear how many troops, if any, will remain in the northeastern part of the country and how long the withdrawal process will take.
The SDF is a US-backed umbrella group of militias, led by the primarily Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), and a belligerent in the Syrian Civil War. The SDF has ousted IS from several areas formerly under its control, notably including Raqqa, Al-Tabqah, and Manbij. IS has lost most of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria after suffering major military defeats following its 2014 offensive.
To date, the Syrian Civil War - which began in 2011 - involves many parties, including the Syrian government, the Russian government, the Iranian government, the Turkish government, a US-led coalition, and numerous armed groups on the ground (including the Islamic State) with competing goals.
Due to extremely poor security conditions, Western governments generally advise against all travel to Syria, with some banning travel to the country. Professional security advice and support should be sought prior to any travel to Syria.
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