The U.S.-led coalition in Syria and Iraq has ramped up its attack on the final remnants of Islamic State, increasing the number of strikes by more than 300 percent over the number of airstrikes in March.
The coalition Monday announced that it conducted 225 strikes again Islamic State (IS) forces in May, a 304 percent increase over the 74 strikes it carried out in March.
Military officials said the strike numbers reflect a refocus by U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the latest counter-IS assault in the Middle Euphrates River Valley. Dubbed Operation Roundup, the assault follows months of U.S. calls to its allies, the SDF and Turkey, to stop fighting each other in northern Syria and turn their efforts toward defeating IS.
In March, the majority of the predominantly Kurdish population of Afrin, in northwest Syria, evacuated under threat of attack from Turkish military forces and Turkish-backed opposition forces. Some Kurdish fighters in the SDF flocked to Afrin after a plea from locals to protect the city.
U.S. officials have repeatedly said the fighting in northwestern Syria “distracts” from the counter-IS campaign and provides an opportunity for the group to begin reconstituting in some areas.
Coalition estimates of remaining Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria dropped below 3,000 last year, but coalition spokesman Army Col. Sean Ryan told VOA there are still plenty of fighters spread across the Middle Euphrates River Valley.