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.


Four Turkish soldiers killed in clashes with PKK, says ministry

Military vehicles pass as Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters man a checkpoint on a highway connecting the Iraqi-Syrian border town of Rabia and the town of Snuny north of Mount Sinjar December 20, 2014. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 min 32 sec ago
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Four Turkish soldiers killed in clashes with PKK, says ministry

  • Macron on Friday made clear of the importance to Paris of “the security of Turkey and a de-escalation along the Syrian-Turkish border,” the French presidency said

ISTANBUL, PARIS: Four Turkish soldiers were killed on Friday in clashes with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) near the border with Iraq, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday.
Demiroren News Agency said a military base had been attacked in the mountainous Cukurca district of Turkey’s southeastern province of Hakkari, prompting the Turkish military to respond with a “large-scale” military operation.
“As part of ongoing operations on the Turkey-Iraq border, two soldiers were killed in clashes with terrorists despite all efforts to save them,” the ministry said, adding a total of four soldiers were killed and six wounded.
“Terrorists are under intense fire with the air operation and fire support vehicles in the region,” it said.
The PKK, which has waged an insurgency for autonomy in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast since 1984, is deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.
A day earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted representatives of the Kurdish-led force that defeated Daesh extremists in Syria, drawing a sharp rebuke from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry.
Macron assured the Kurdish envoys of French support in their fight against the remaining militants, but Ankara accused the French leader of “seeking to confer artificial legitimacy on a faction of terrorist groups.”
“We condemn the reception by French President Emmanuel Macron of a delegation of so-called ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF),” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in the statement.
In late March the US-backed SDF flushed out Daesh militants from their last bastion in Syria but the Kurdish-led force still warns that the militants remain a threat in places.
The SDF is an umbrella Kurdish-Arab force dominated by Kurds from the People’s Protection Units (YPG). It is regarded with huge distrust by neighboring Turkey which sees the YPG as a terror group.
Macron assured the visiting SDF representatives, who were not named, of the “active support of France in the fight against Daesh which continues to be a menace for collective security,” the presidency said in a statement.
Particularly important is the support in the “handling of terrorist fighters held as prisoners along with their families.”
European capitals are keeping a careful eye on the Daesh prisoners held by the SDF after the defeat of the militants, given many are dual nationals.
Macron also vowed that financial support would be allocated to “respond to the humanitarian needs and the socio-economic stabilization of civilian populations in Syria.”
The SDF were the West’s key ally in defeating Daesh and waged the bulk of the fighting on the ground.
But they fear being abandoned by their patrons now Daesh has been beaten, after US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American forces from Syria.
France’s past contacts with the SDF’s Syrian Kurds had already angered Turkey which regards the YPG as the Syrian branch of the PKK, which has waged a 35-year insurrection against the Turkish state.
Macron on Friday made clear of the importance to Paris of “the security of Turkey and a de-escalation along the Syrian-Turkish border,” the French presidency said.
But Aksoy said Macron’s move did not sit well with the French-Turkish alliance, and warned that “Turkey will not hesitate to take measures deemed necessary to protect its national security.”