A coalition of US-backed Kurdish militia and rebel groups has launched its first operation against territory controlled by the Islamic State militant group in northeast Syria, a spokesman said Saturday.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were formed in mid-October as an alliance between the powerful Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and other Syrian rebel groups.
"This is the first step of the Syrian Democratic Forces," said Sherfan Darwish, spokesman for the Burkan al-Furat Arab rebel group, which is part of the SDF.
Speaking to AFP by phone from Syria, Darwish said the SDF's operation began on Friday night and would target ISIS-held areas in the northeast province of Hasakeh, including the towns of Shadadi and al-Hol.
Darwish said the fresh operation would receive air support from a US-led coalition striking ISIS in Syria since September 2014.
In a video statement published online, the YPG confirmed the beginning of the operation "with all of the members of the SDF, and with support from and coordination with the international coalition, to liberate the southern parts of Hasakeh province."
Clashes on Saturday raged between the SDF and ISIS outside al-Hol, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
He said coalition air strikes had hit the area on Friday night.
The SDF announcement came a day after the White House said it would send "fewer than 50" special forces personnel to Syria's north, reversing a long-standing refusal to put US boots on the ground.