BAGHOUZ: Daesh group extremists emerged from tunnels to surrender to US-backed forces in eastern Syria on Sunday, a Kurdish spokesman said, a day after their “caliphate” was declared defeated.
An AFP reporter saw dozens of people — mostly men — file out of the battered Daesh encampment in the remote village of Baghouz to board pickup trucks.
“They are Daesh militants who came out of tunnels and surrendered today,” said Jiaker Amed, a spokesman for the Kurdish units spearheading the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
Plodding out of their defeated bastion on the banks of the Euphrates near the Iraqi border, some sported thick beards.
Some wore long woollen kaftan tunics over their dark-colored robes, others a checkered scarf wrapped around their heads.
“Some others could still be hiding inside,” added Amed.
A months-long offensive by the SDF was declared victorious Saturday, after multiple pauses to allow out civilians and surrendering terrorists from the crumbling Daesh pocket.
Surrendering or suspected extremists are detained, while their relatives are trucked up north to camps for the displaced.
Daesh declared a cross-border “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq in 2014, imposing its brutal rule on millions.
Also Sunday, US-supported Syrian fighters were clearing explosives in the last area retaken from the Daesh group a day after declaring military victory over the extremists.
A spokesman for the Kurdish-led SDF who goes by the nom de guerre Mervan the Brave said Baghouz, the village where the militants made their final stand, is “full of all kinds of explosives.” He said SDF forces were clearing the area and have detonated land mines and suicide belts the militants left behind.
A Syrian driver working with NBC News reporters was killed Saturday by an explosive device that went off in a house used as an SDF command post and a media center for journalists covering the fighting in Baghouz.
Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, said in a statement that network employees escaped unharmed. He expressed “deepest sympathies” to the driver’s family and loved ones.
“We are still gathering information from today’s events, and are in touch with the driver’s family to support them however we can,” he said. It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion.
The victory announced in Baghouz on Saturday marks the end of a devastating five-year campaign by an array of forces to retake territories held by Daesh in Syria and Iraq. At its height, Daesh controlled a sprawling self-declared caliphate the size of Britain that was home to some 8 million people. It is not known whether the group’s leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, is still alive or where he might be hiding.
“This is a historic moment, but we cannot be complacent,” tweeted Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, the deputy commander of the US-led coalition against Daesh.
“Even without territory, Daesh will continue to pose a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, as well as to the wider world. The coalition must remain firm in its determination to counter Daesh,” he said.
Thousands of people, including Daesh fighters and their family members, left Baghouz in recent weeks and were taken to detention centers and camps for the displaced elsewhere in eastern Syria. The militants were holding hostages and had detained civilians, whose fate remains unknown.