Daesh loses big part of Syrian enclave, SDF sees militants’ defeat ‘very soon’

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A fighter of Syrian Democratic Forces gestures in the village of Baghouz. (Reuters)
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Injured Daesh militants in the village of Baghouz on Thursday, March 14, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 20 March 2019
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Daesh loses big part of Syrian enclave, SDF sees militants’ defeat ‘very soon’

  • The camp was the biggest remaining area held by Daesh in Baghouz
  • The SDF earlier said it had captured 157 mostly foreign fighters

DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria: US-backed Syrian forces said they were close to capturing Daesh’s last territorial possession in eastern Syria on Tuesday after seizing the militants’ camp at Baghouz, though clashes continued with some remaining militants.

“This is not a victory announcement, but a significant progress in the fight against Daesh,” said Mustafa Bali, a media official with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia on Twitter, using an Arabic acronym for Daesh.

Asked by Reuters how long it would take to defeat the remaining militants, Bali said he expected the operation to end “very soon.”

“The battles are not yet over. There are still some pockets next to the river. Some of the terrorists have taken their children as human shields. There are intermittent clashes,” he said.

The camp was the biggest remaining area held by Daesh in Baghouz, itself the last populated area the militant group held from the third of Syria and Iraq it suddenly seized in 2014.

It has been steadily forced back there after years of retreats in the face of military campaigns by the US-backed SDF, the Russia-backed Syrian army and the Iraqi army with allied Iran-backed militias.

Over recent weeks, as the group hemorrhaged supporters fleeing the besieged enclave, diehard militants mounted a desperate last stand in the battered Baghouz camp, shooting from trenches and sending car bombs against their enemies.

Conditions inside were dire, said people who left, with inhabitants facing constant danger from bombardment and with little food, forced to eat grass. Hundreds of wounded militants were captured when the SDF overran the camp, Bali said.

However, while the capture of the previously unknown village of Baghouz near Syria’s border with Iraq, will mark a milestone in the battle against Daesh, regional and Western officials say the group will remain a threat

Some of its fighters hold out in the remote central Syrian desert and others have gone underground in Iraq to stage a series of shootings and kidnappings.

The SDF earlier on Monday said it had captured 157 mostly foreign fighters as they tracked efforts by militants to break out of the enclave and escape their besiegers.

Both the SDF and the US-led coalition that backs it have said the remaining Daesh militants at Baghouz are among its most hardened foreign operatives.

Over the past two months, more than 60,000 people have poured out of the group’s dwindling enclave, nearly half of whom were surrendering supporters of Daesh, including some 5,000 fighters.

Even on the brink of defeat, the group’s propaganda division continued to function. On Monday night Daesh released an audio recording of its spokesman, Abi Al-Hassan Al-MuHajjer, saying the group would stay strong.

“Do you think the displacement of the weak and poor out of Baghouz will weaken the Daesh? No,” he said.

It also put out a video recording from inside the Baghouz camp, showing fighters shooting out at the encircling forces and a mess of stationary vehicles and makeshift shelters around them.


Iraq lifts nearly 30 km of blast walls from Baghdad: official

Updated 11 min 53 sec ago
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Iraq lifts nearly 30 km of blast walls from Baghdad: official

BAGHDAD: Iraqi authorities have removed nearly 30 kilometers of concrete blast walls across Baghdad in the last six months, mostly around the capital’s high-security Green Zone, a senior official told AFP.
Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, T-walls — thick barriers about six meters tall and one meter wide — have surrounded potential targets of car bombs or other attacks.
When premier Adel Abdel Mahdi came to power last year, he promised to remove barriers, checkpoints and other security measures to make Baghdad easier to navigate.
“Over the last six months, we removed 18,000 T-walls in Baghdad, including 14,000 in the Green Zone alone,” said Staff Lt. Gen. Mohammed Al-Bayati, the PM’s top military adviser.
Hundreds of the security checkpoints that contributed to Baghdad’s notorious traffic jams have also been removed.
And according to the Baghdad municipality, 600 streets that had been closed off to public access have been opened in the last six months.
Among them are key routes crossing through Baghdad’s Green Zone, the enclave where government buildings, UN agencies and embassies including the US and UK missions are based.
It was long inaccessible to most Iraqis until an order from Abdel Mahdi last year, and families can now be seen picking their way across its manicured parks for sunset pictures.
Iraq is living a rare period of calm after consecutive decades of violence, which for Baghdad peaked during the sectarian battles from 2006 to 2008.
It was followed, in 2014, by Daesh’s sweep across a third of the country and a three-year battle to oust the militants from their urban strongholds.
The group still wages hit-and-run attacks against Iraqi security forces and government targets, and Baghdad’s authorities are on high alert.
Thousands of the removed T-walls have been placed on Baghdad’s outskirts to prevent infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells, according to Bayati.