The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have advanced into the final territorial enclave held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) where heavy fighting is under way.
The Kurdish-led SDF expect the battle to be over “soon”, the head of the SDF media office Mustafa Bali said on Saturday.
The SDF were advancing on two fronts into the tiny enclave at Baghouz in Syria’s Deir az Zor province at the Iraq border. Three SDF fighters had been wounded so far, the media office said in an update circulated to reporters.
The SDF began a final assault to capture the enclave at Baghouz on Thursday, aiming to wipe out the last vestige of territorial rule that once spanned a third of Syria and Iraq.
Fighters from the SDF clashed with ISIL fighters on Friday after the last batch of civilians left the territory, Bali said in a statement on Friday.
“Those left inside are fighters who do not wish to surrender,” he told The Associated Press.
The smallest batch of evacuees, just over 200, came out of the pocket in around six trucks used to transport sheep. About 10 trucks sent to the perimeter of the ISIL pocket came back empty, and drivers said no more evacuees came out after hours of waiting.
The evacuees on Friday included wounded men but were mostly women and children. There were Russians, Indonesians, Bosnians, Daghestani, Kazakhs, Egyptians, Syrians, and Iraqis. They dragged along few belongings and distraught children.
Umm Mohammed, a 38-year-old Syrian, left Baghouz with her three children on Friday but her husband stayed behind in support of ISIL “There are many fighters and families inside,” she told AP. “ISIL is weak only in Baghouz but elsewhere it is expanding and growing.”
The military campaign to uproot the fighters from the eastern banks of the Euphrates River began in September, pushing them down toward this last corner in the village of Baghouz, near the Iraqi border.