BAGHOUZ, Syria: Kurdish forces and international aid organizations admitted on Saturday they have no idea how many civilians remain inside the last sliver of Daesh territory in northeast Syria.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) paused military operations against Daesh militants holed up in Baghouz on the banks of the Euphrates as more women and children emerged from the village, days after it was thought only a few hundred foreign fighters remained.
“They’re coming from underground... they’re never-ending,” said one SDF official.
More than 62,000 people have flooded Al-Hol refugee camp in northern Syria, and thousands more are expected, the UN said. The International Rescue Committee said Al-Hol was at “breaking point.”
“No one could have guessed that such a large number of women and children were still living in Baghouz,” spokeswoman Misty Buswell said.
One of the refugees, Umm Aboud, a mother of four from the northern Syrian city of Al-Bab, said: “There’s still more. You see how many people have come out in the past few days, there’s that many still inside.”
Some experts believe Daesh is merely trying to delay the final destruction of its so-called “caliphate,” while others believe it may be something more sinister.
Daesh have been regularly “releasing certain numbers of people, including fighters, in controlled amounts” in an attempt to buy time, said analyst Mutlu Civiroglu, on the ground in eastern Syria.
“If they really wanted to surrender, they would have ... and if they wanted to fight again, they could have,” he said. The delay was “a deliberate effort, maybe to prepare for something else ... what that is, though, is unclear.”
In Iraq, Daesh have gone to ground, staging waves of killings and kidnappings. In Syria, they hold out in remote desert areas and have carried out bombings in areas controlled by the SDF.
Daesh said on Saturday they had carried out a suicide car bomb attack near the Syrian town of Manbij to signal to foreign troops that they were not safe in the country. Manbij is controlled by a Kurdish militia allied to the SDF.
Meanwhile, the SDF confirmed on Saturday that a baby boy born in a refugee camp to a London teenager who ran away from home to join Daesh in Syria had died.
Shamima Begum, 19, was stripped of her British citizenship on security grounds last month, leaving her in a detention camp in Syria where her baby died, the third of her infant children to die since she ran away from home to join Daesh in Syria in 2015.