Backed fighters make limited advances against IS in Syria

Erika Holt
March 13, 2019

US-backed forces on Sunday resumed their assault on ISIS holdouts in their eastern Syrian redoubt.

The numbers have flummoxed the Kurdish-led forces and bogged down their offensive to finish off the once sprawling proto-state.

SDF fighters sat on plastic chairs on the roof of an abandoned building, watching over the camp hundreds of metres from fields dotted with palm trees.

Inside Baghouz, a squalid area of makeshift shelters, garbage and trenches filmed by Reuters TV on Sunday showed the harsh conditions in the ruins of Islamic State's "caliphate". A small pickup truck followed, in the back of which a female SDF fighter tended to a comrade lying under blankets, his leg bandaged.

"The assault will start at any moment", he told AFP.

"The operation slowed down after midnight".

Footage obtained by AFP from the Free Burma Rangers, a Christian aid group run by a former United States special forces operative, showed hundreds of people still remained in the riverside camp.

Air strikes destroyed IS stores and vehicles, the SDF said.

The warplanes of a US-led coalition and mortar fire overnight pounded weapons caches, and tank fire targeted IS positions, he and a spokesman said.

Baghuz, located on the Euphrates river in eastern Syria near the border with Iraq, is the last significant territory still in the hands of Islamic State, which for years controlled swathes of both countries.

"The message that these children are not wanted is growing stronger and stronger", said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF's Middle East director.

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"Our forces are now clashing with the terrorists", he said.

Since December, almost 59,000 people have left the last IS redoubt, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, around a tenth of them suspected jihadist fighters.

A US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighter walks inside a tent encampment that was occupied by Isis militants in Baghouz.

The International Rescue Committee on Friday said as many as 12,000 people from Baghouz have arrived in one camp for non-combatants in northeast Syria over the past 48 hours, including some 6,000 people on Thursday alone.

It's worth noting that the SDF declared the last push against Daesh earlier in March, but later put it on hold to allow the Daesh and their family members to leave.

US President Donald Trump said in a speech on February 28 that the Islamic State group had lost 100 percent of its territory in Syria.

Aid agencies are struggling to cope with the thousands of weak and hungry people who have fled Baghouz.

Among the IS fighters detained and civilians placed in displacement camps are a number of foreign nationals.

Suspected militants - including several wounded - have also been detained after making their way out in the crowd.

The report affirmed that most of the killings were women and kids.

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