US-backed SDF hand Iraqi, foreign Daesh fighters to Iraq

News of the handover came as US-backed forces were readying for an assault on the militant group’s final enclave in eastern Syria. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 February 2019

US-backed SDF hand Iraqi, foreign Daesh fighters to Iraq

  • The handover was the first of several under an agreement brokered to handover a total of 502 fighters
  • News of the handover came as US-backed forces were readying for an assault on the militant group’s final enclave in eastern Syria

BEIRUT, DEIR EZZOR:  US-backed Syrian forces are negotiating to evacuate civilians from Daesh’s last redoubt which now faces “inevitable defeat,” the international coalition against the militants said on Thursday.

Remaining civilians are expected to be evacuated in eastern Syria on Thursday, US-backed forces said, clearing the way for them to wipe out the last vestige of militant rule that once straddled Syria and Iraq.

Iraqi sources said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which have besieged the last Daesh enclave near the Iraqi border, handed over more than 150 Iraqi and other foreign militants to Iraq on Thursday, under a deal involving a total of 502.

The village of Baghouz at the Iraqi border is the last scrap of territory left to Daesh in the Euphrates Valley region that became its final populated stronghold in Iraq and Syria after a series of defeats in 2017.

Hundreds of people including women and children were trucked out of the last patch of Daesh territory on Wednesday, but the SDF said that a large number of civilians remained inside.

Trapped militants

The Kurdish-led SDF, backed by the warplanes of the US-led coalition, have trapped Daesh militants in less than half-a-sq-km in the village of Baghouz.

“Coalition forces, to include the US, continue to support the SDF as they negotiate having innocent civilians released and their fighters returned with the inevitable defeat in Baghouz,” coalition spokesman Sean Ryan told AFP.

There was no immediate comment from the SDF, which has previously identified the remaining civilians as mostly wives and children of Daesh militants.

Thousands of people — mostly women and children related to Daesh members — have streamed out of Baghouz in recent weeks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said on Wednesday that there were negotiations for the surrender of the last Daesh militants. It said there were “reports of a deal” but the details were unclear.

But the militants have since lost almost all their territory and hundreds of foreigners suspected of being Daesh militants, as well as related women and children, are being held by the SDF.

Though the fall of Baghouz marks a milestone in the campaign against Daesh and the wider conflict in Syria, Daesh is still seen as a major security threat.

The group has steadily turned to guerrilla warfare and still holds territory in a remote, sparsely populated area west of the Euphrates River — a part of Syria otherwise controlled by the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies.

The head of the SDF media office, Mustafa Bali, told Reuters the SDF would attack Baghouz once the civilian evacuation was complete — a process he expected to be finished on Thursday.

Bali did not say how much more time was needed to finish off the remaining Daesh militants, or give a new estimate of how many fighters remained.

The SDF has previously estimated several hundred fighters — believed mostly to be foreign militants — are still inside.

UAE confirms 624 new coronavirus cases

Updated 1 min 45 sec ago

UAE confirms 624 new coronavirus cases

  • There was one death overnight
  • A total of 765 people were cleared of COVID-19 infections

DUBAI: The UAE has recorded 624 new coronavirus cases overnight after conducting additional 44,000 tests, raising the country’s caseload to 37,642, health ministry officials said.

There was also one death overnight, putting the UAE death toll to 274, state news agency WAM reported.

Another 765 people meanwhile were cleared of COVID-19 infections, bringing patient recoveries to 20,337.

The health ministry reiterated its advisory for people to follow social distancing and other preventive measures to avoid coronavirus transmission.