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Kurdish Fighters Recapture Strategic Syrian Town From the Islamic State

Kurdish forces have reportedly ousted the Islamic State from the town of Tal Hamis, which has been a militant stronghold in northeastern Syria for much of the past year.

by Olivia Becker
Feb 28 2015, 4:05pm

Image via Ragihandina YPG/YouTube

Kurdish forces have reportedly ousted the Islamic State from the Syrian town of Tal Hamis, which has been a militant stronghold for much of the past year.

An extended military campaign waged by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), aided by US-led coalition airstrikes and local militias, forced IS to retreat to the outskirts of the Al-Hasakah province in northeastern Syria, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported Friday.

The fighting between the YPG and IS militants lasted for the past four days and resulted in the deaths of dozens of Kurdish fighters and at least 175 IS militants, according to SOHR. In addition to Tal Hamis, Kurdish forces also regained control of some 103 surrounding villages.

Tal Hamis is northeast of the provincial capital of Al-Hasakah and has been an important stronghold for IS throughout much of the Syrian war. YPG forces had previously attempted to regain control over it last year in an unsuccessful military campaign that left at least 75 fighters dead. After ousting IS from the town, Kurdish forces now occupy a strategic strip of land that links Tal Hamis to the Syrian-Iraqi border.

Related: Video shows Islamic State smashing ancient artifacts with sledgehammers in Mosul. 

Fleeing Kurdish fighters and airstrikes overhead, IS militants escaped to the countryside of Al-Hasakah, where intermittent clashes with Kurdish forces continued.

The fighting forced thousands of local families to flee their homes, according to SOHR, with many heading south to areas still controlled by IS. Others attempted to escape to towns on the border in hopes of crossing over into neighboring Turkey.

Residents also told SOHR that YPG burned down the houses of suspected IS members or those who were fighting with the militants.

Related: The Islamic State has reportedly kidnapped at least 150 members of a Christian minority group. 

The recapture of Tal Hamis by the Kurds comes days after IS abducted hundreds of Assyrian Christians from other areas in the Al-Hasakah province this past week. The number of people taken by IS has steadily climbed since Monday, when initial reports emerged that the group had taken 70-100 people. On Thursday, SOHR reported that as many as 220 members of the Christian ethnic minority group had been abducted from 11 villages in the Tal Tamer area.

"Thank God for the YPG and the [Kurdish Women's Protective Unit] YPJ for this moment," said a resident of Tal Hamis, in a video by Voice for America that shows the celebrations that followed IS' ouster.

"Long live the resistance of the YPG!" added another local man in the video.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928