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Two British soldiers seriously injured in Syria after Isis missile attack

Special forces troops in stable condition as battles to drive Isis out of last Syrian territories continue

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
,Adam Forrest
Saturday 05 January 2019 22:22 GMT
US and Turkish troops conduct joint patrol inside Syria
US and Turkish troops conduct joint patrol inside Syria (EPA)

Two British soldiers have been injured in an Isis missile attack during battles to drive the group out of its last Syrian strongholds.

The soldiers were struck alongside two fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) on Saturday.

The Independent understands they were hit by an anti-tank guided missile near al-Shaafah, a town in Deir Ezzor governate.

The YPG and other militias in the UK-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are battling to drive Isis out of the region, which sits on the Euphrates River near the Iraqi border.

The British soldiers, who are members of the special forces, were airlifted to hospital by helicopter and remain in a stable condition.

One of the YPG fighters is in a serious condition, while the other one was stable. A spokesperson for the YPG initially reported one of the fighters as killed but later corrected the statement.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) would not confirm reports of the attack.

A spokesperson told The Independent: “We do not comment on special forces operations.”

It came weeks after Donald Trump declared Isis “defeated” in Syria, and ordered a withdrawal of US troops that critics say could pave the way for a bloody Turkish assault on Kurdish groups.

British special forces have been supporting the SDF on the ground, while the RAF carries out airstrikes alongside the US-led coalition.

Trump says Syria is ‘sand and death’

Kurdish-led forces have driven Isis out of swathes of its former territories in the country, including its de-facto capital of Raqqa.

The first British death in the ongoing conflict came in March 2018, when Sgt Matt Tonroe was killed by a roadside bomb alongside an American soldier in Manbij.

The 33-year-old, of the elite 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, had been embedded with US forces in the former Isis stronghold.

Fighting is currently focused around al-Shaafah, and a spokesperson for the YPG told The Independent around a third of the town had been captured in ongoing battles.

The SDF said more than 70 Isis fighters had been killed in battles for the nearby city of Hajin and surrounding area.

Isis propaganda channels have also reported the death and injury of several Kurdish fighters.

The SDF press office reported “heavy clashes” on Saturday as the advance continued.

Footage from a dead Isis commander’s headcam showed chaos on the frontlines in a recent attack on an SDF base near Hajin.

Isis appeared to be using child soldiers in the botched assault, which resulted in the commander being shot dead and other militants retreating.

Panicked conversations between fighters showed their weapons were jamming, radios were not working and their armoured vehicles were low on fuel.

Isis fighters expressed fear that they would be hit by airstrikes by the US-led coalition, which has been bombarding militants and their bases in the area for weeks.

US Central Command confirmed 469 airstrikes had been carried out in Syria from 16 to 29 December.

The strikes are part of Operation Roundup, which started in May to defeat Isis forces remaining in the Middle Euphrates River Valley and Iraqi- Syrian border region.

A spokesperson for US Central Command said: “Operation Inherent Resolve and its partner forces' operations are exerting pressure on Isis senior leaders and associates, as well as degrading, disrupting and dismantling Isis organisational structures throughout Iraq and Syria.

“Operation Roundup will continue to target Isis as the Coalition remains committed to the lasting defeat of Isis to increase peace and stability in the region, and to protect all our homelands from Isis’s terrorist threat.”

It has confirmed the deaths of 1,139 civilians in coalition airstrikes since the operation started in August 2014.

Mr Trump claimed Isis was “defeated” in Syria last month and ordered the withdrawal of US troops from the country, but no timetable has been set.

The move sparked global condemnation over fears that Turkey, which views the YPG as a terrorist group, would invade and that Isis could use the lack of airstrikes to regroup.

The Pentagon assessed there were still as many as 14,500 Isis fighters in Syria in August.

Mr Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said on Saturday that the US military would only withdraw if the militants were defeated and Turkey assured the safety of Kurdish allies.

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