BAGHOUZ: Daesh was close to defeat in its final enclave on Tuesday after ferocious bombardments overnight and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said the offensive to capture the area was nearly over.
The beseiged enclave of Baghouz is the last shred of territory held by the extremists who have been driven from roughly one third of Iraq and Syria over the past four years by its enemies, including a US-led international coalition.
“The operation is over, or as good as over, but requires a little more time to be completed practically on the ground,” SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel told Al-Hadath TV. Daesh was still putting up resistance with weapons including car bombs.
The Baghouz enclave was targeted with barrages of rockets overnight and fires raged inside, but the bombardments ceased on Tuesday morning.
The SDF has been laying siege to Baghouz for weeks but repeatedly postponed its final assault to allow the evacuation of thousands of civilians, many of them wives and children of Daesh fighters. It finally resumed the attack on Sunday, backed by coalition air strikes.
Gabriel said 25 Daesh fighters had been confirmed killed so far in clashes, in addition to an unknown number of militants killed by air strikes. Another SDF official earlier said 38 extremists had been confirmed killed.
The SDF, which is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, has been advancing slowly into Baghouz to minimize its losses from sniper fire and land mines.
Three SDF fighters have been killed, Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, said on Twitter.
Daesh’s defenses include extensive tunnels and Daesh’s most hardened foreign fighters are holed up inside the enclave, the SDF has said.
However the United States does not believe any senior Daesh leaders are in Baghouz, assessing they have gone elsewhere as part of the group’s shift toward guerrilla tactics, a US defense official has said.
The group still operates in remote territory elsewhere and it is widely assessed that it will continue to represent a potent security threat.
The bulk 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 UN said.
The World Health Organization on Tuesday said 106 people, mainly infants, have died on the journey to Al-Hol, which takes at least six hours, since December.
Obdurate support voiced by many evacuees for Daesh, particularly among foreigners, has posed a complex security, legal and moral challenge.
Those issues were underscored on Friday with the death of the newborn son of Shamima Begum, a British woman who left to join Daesh when she was a schoolgirl.