TEHRAN (Press Shia Agency) – Iraqi armed forces said Saturday they had started an offensive to dislodge Daesh (ISIL or ISIS) from an area on the border with Syria south of the Euphrates River.

The offensive in the Akashat region, which has natural gas reserves, is meant to pave the way for the seizure of militant-held towns in the Euphrates River valley, including the border post of al-Qaim, military statements said, agencies reported.

Iraqi forces attacked a Daesh desert outpost near the Syrian border in preparation for a drive up the Euphrates Valley towards the frontier, commanders said.

Al-Qaim and the Euphrates towns of Rawa and Anna downstream form just one of two enclaves still held by Daesh in Iraq after a string of battlefield defeats this year.

"The army, the Hashd al-Shaabi and the border guard launched a major operation to liberate Akashat … and secure the border to its north," said the head of Joint Operations Command, General Abdelamir Yarallah.

Iraqi commanders estimate there are no more than 300 civilian families left in Akashat, a former railhead that was once a major source of phosphate production.

Imed Meshaal, mayor of Rutba, a desert town further south recaptured from Daesh last year, said the terrorists had turned the area into a major hub for arms caches, training camps and command centers.

Iraqi commanders say they estimate Daesh still has more than 1,500 fighters in its al-Qaim enclave.

The militants also control a second enclave west of the ethnically divided Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk centered on the mainly Sunni Arab town of Hawija.