Daesh group living its final moment in Baghouz: SDF
14 Mar 2019
Daesh fighters and their families walk as they surrender in the village of Baghouz on Tuesday. Reuters
US-backed forces said on Wednesday the Daesh group was living its “final moments” after thunderous shelling on its last scrap of land in eastern Syria prompted 3,000 militants to surrender.
But the die-hard Daesh fighters who stayed to defend the remnants of their “caliphate” struck back with a wave of suicide bombings, said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Daesh once ruled over millions in a swathe of Syria and Iraq, but it has since lost all that territory except for a riverside slither in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.
Thousands of men and women have poured out of the pocket in recent weeks, hampering an advance by the US-backed SDF, which has paused its offensive multiple times to allow evacuations.
Supported by air strikes by the US-led coalition against the militants, the SDF resumed artillery shelling on Sunday after warning holdout IS fighters their time was up.
For three nights in a row, the Kurdish-led SDF has unleashed a deluge of fire on extremist outposts, engulfing their makeshift encampment in a ravaging blaze.
“IS’s final moments have started,” SDF official Jiaker Amed told reporters. Clashes continued Wednesday as the SDF worked to thwart Daesh counterattacks.
militants “launched two counterattacks today − one in the morning and another in the afternoon,” an SDF official told reporters.
“The second one was much stronger” and was launched under the cover of smoke caused by bombing, he said.
The official said militants were using suicide bombers but his force intercepted them before they reached their target.
The militants “made no progress and they were stopped,” he said.
Inside Baghouz, the crackle and thud of gunfire and shelling rang out from the encampment as plumes of thick black smoke rose over the bombed-out Daesh bastion.
Amid the rubble, three SDF fighters lobbed a salvo of mortar shells towards the Daesh pocket, hours after the extremist counterattack at daybreak under the cover of a dust storm.
On a rooftop near the front line, a media correspondent saw a warplane fire two missiles at Daesh positions.
Delil, an SDF fighter, said: “Today, the sandstorm is to their benefit but all coming days are ours.”
Outside the village, dozens of evacuees sat in clusters on a field dotted with yellow flowers, a day after thousands of the last survivors of the “caliphate” handed themselves over to US-backed forces.
Most of the people evacuated from the diminishing Daesh territory have been transported to a camp for internally displaced people in Al Hol, in northeastern Syria, where the United Nations says conditions are dire.
The camp, designed to accommodate 20,000 people, is now sheltering more than 66,000. The World Health Organization said on Tuesday 106 people, mainly infants, have died since December on the journey to Al Hol, which takes at least six hours.
After a night of heavy bombardment on Tuesday, SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali said about 3,000 militants had handed themselves over to the SDF in the past 24 hours.
“The battle is ongoing and the final hour is now closer than ever,” he said on Twitter.
But an SDF official said on Wednesday that “it appears as though many fighters remain inside” the last pocket.
Near the front line on Tuesday night, AFP correspondents saw bright, long streaks of light in the night sky as US-backed forces bombed extremist outposts.
Explosions shook the Daesh pocket as large fires ravaged a cluster of tents and buildings.
Coalition spokesman Sean Ryan on Wednesday said Daesh has no room to manoeuvre.
“There is no freedom of movement at night for the enemy,” he told reporters.
“Combined with the SDF ground movement against the final enclave, progress is being made and their capabilities are being severely destroyed.”
Since December, about 60,000 people have left the last Daesh redoubt, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, around a tenth of them suspected militants.
The outpouring has sparked a humanitarian crisis in Kurdish-run camps for the displaced further north, which are struggling to accomodate the mass influx of women and children.