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US military commander in Syria briefed on anti-ISIS operations



BEIRUT — The top US military commander visited northeast Syria on Saturday where US troops and their allies are launching a campaign against the Islamic State group, a US military official said.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley met with commanders and troops who briefed him on ongoing operations against ISIS, said Milley spokesman Col. Dave Butler.

Butler did not say whether Milley had met with commanders of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which have been the main ally of US forces in Syria in the fight against ISIS.

Milley’s visit came a day after US Central Command said US troops and their allies conducted more than a dozen joint operations in northeastern Syria in February in which five members of IS had been killed and 11 detained.

“While there, he received updates on the anti-ISIS mission, inspected force protection measures and assessed repatriation efforts for the Al Hol refugee camp,” Butler said in a statement. referring to a camp housing tens of thousands of women and children mostly linked to IS.

In al-Hol, tens of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis are crammed into tents in the fenced camp. Nearly 20,000 of them are children; most of the rest are wives, wives and widows of IS fighters.

In a separate, heavily guarded section of the camp, known as the annex, are an additional 10,000 people: 2,000 women from 57 other countries – they are considered IS’s most staunch supporters – as well as about 8,000 of their children.

In recent months, several countries, including France, Spain and Iraq, have repatriated dozens of women and children from al-Hol.

Kurdish authorities currently run more than two dozen detention centers scattered across northeast Syria, holding around 10,000 IS fighters. Among the detainees are some 2,000 foreigners whose countries of origin have refused to repatriate them, including about 800 Europeans.

There are currently around 900 US forces on the ground in northeast Syria, according to Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Dana Stroul.

Despite their defeat in March 2019 in which ISIS lost the last strip of land it once controlled, extremist sleeper cells continue to carry out deadly attacks in Syria and neighboring Iraq.

In February, IS sleeper cells attacked workers picking truffles near the central town of Sukhna, killing at least 53 people, mostly workers but also members of the Syrian government security forces. Several similar attacks have occurred since.

Baldor reported from Washington.

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