Daesh ploy halts final assault on ‘caliphate’

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A fighter with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) checks a makeshift camp for Daesh militants and their families in the town of Baghouz, in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, on March 9, 2019. (AFP / BULENT KILIC)
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Suspected Daesh militants walk next to a makeshift camp for Daesh families in the town of Baghouz, in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, on March 9, 2019. (AFP / BULENT KILIC)
Updated 10 March 2019

Daesh ploy halts final assault on ‘caliphate’

  • SDF fighters paused military operations as more women and children emerged from the last Daesh holdout
  • Some experts believe Daesh may be something more sinister

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.


Erdogan hit by more arms bans as pressure grows over Syria invasion

Updated 16 October 2019

Erdogan hit by more arms bans as pressure grows over Syria invasion

  • United States threatens more sanctions
  • Britain, Spain and Sweden joined Germany and France in suspending military exports

ANKARA: Three more countries halted arms sales to Turkey on Tuesday as pressure mounted on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the Turkish invasion of northeast Syria.

Britain, Spain and Sweden joined Germany and France in suspending military exports, and the US threatened Ankara with more sanctions unless Erdogan halts the offensive.

“We will keep our defense exports to Turkey under very careful and continual review,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. “No further export licenses to Turkey for items which might be used in military operations in Syria will be granted while we conduct that review.”

Spain, a major arms exporter to Turkey, urged Erdogan to “put an end to this military operation” because it endangered regional stability, increased the number of refugees and threatened Syria’s territorial integrity.

“In coordination with its EU partners, Spain will deny new export licenses for military equipment that can be used in the operation in Syria,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Sweden also halted exports of military combat equipment. “Two permits that have been active have now been recalled,” it said.

BACKGROUND

Vice President Mike Pence will hold talks with Erdogan in Ankara on Wednesday, and the UN Security Council will discuss the invasion.

Erdogan’s assault against Kurdish forces, launched last week, has prompted a chorus of international condemnation. “Many NATO allies are very critical and are condemning the military operation in northern Syria,” said Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of NATO, the Western military alliance of which Turkey is a member.

Russia’s presidential envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, said Turkey had no right to deploy its forces in Syria permanently, and Moscow had not approved the operation.

US President Donald Trump imposed new sanctions on Turkey on Monday, and on Tuesday the US said more sanctions would follow unless the invasion was halted.

“The plan is to continue the pressure on Turkey as we evaluate our chances to return the relationship to normal, a major element of that return to normal would be a cease-fire,” a senior administration official said. “And by cease-fire what I mean is forces on the ground stop moving on the ground.”

Vice President Mike Pence will hold talks with Erdogan in Ankara on Wednesday, and the UN Security Council will discuss the invasion.