Beirut- Syrian Kurdish special forces have joined an offensive against Daesh militants in eastern Syria, a commander said, after the extremists recovered ground from US-backed forces in a fierce counter attack.

Daesh launched the assault against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the Deir Al Zor region near the Iraqi border on Friday. Iraqi Shiite militias have reinforced their side of the frontier in response.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said around 70 SDF fighters were killed in the assault which Daesh launched under cover of a sandstorm and drew on suicide bombers and female extremists. The SDF says it lost 14 fighters.

A spokesman for the US-led coalition said Daesh had been able to regain some ground but the SDF would “come back with coalition support”.

An SDF commander attributed the setback partly to the relative inexperience of the Arab SDF forces which have carried out much of the fighting against hardened Daesh militants in Deir Al Zor.

While the Arab fighters of the Deir Al Zor Military Council had been able to make advances to a “certain level”, Daesh is resisting even more fiercely as the offensive closes in on its last pockets.

This required the deployment of special forces from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which spearheads the SDF, and its female affiliate the YPJ.

“We were forced to draw on experienced fighters from the YPG and YPJ,” the commander said. “They will be relied on to complete the campaign,” the commander said.

The fighting is the latest phase of efforts by the US-led coalition and the SDF to clear Daesh from its last footholds east of the Euphrates River following last year’s defeat of the group in Raqqa, its Syrian headquarters.

“This battle is give and take sometimes like most military fights and we have been saying from the beginning, this will be a difficult struggle,” Colonel Sean Ryan, the coalition’s spokesman, said in an email to Reuters.

“Daesh is using experienced foreign fighters with nothing to lose and the SDF will come back with coalition support and continue to degrade and destroy Daesh,” he added.

Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an umbrella group that includes mostly Shiite militias, said on Saturday it was reinforcing at the Syrian border, including with missile batteries, after the SDF was pushed back by Daesh.

“There are orders to close the Baghouz crossing,” it said, which lies at the Euphrates river between Al Bu Kamal in Syria and Al Qaim in Iraq, both Daesh strongholds during the group’s rule.