Hundreds of Islamic State fighters surrendered on Wednesday and hundreds more of their comrades were caught trying to escape the jihadist group’s last, tiny scrap of land in eastern Syria, said a commander in the militia besieging it, ONA reports citing Reuters
Islamic State fighters holed up in the enclave at Baghouz near the Iraqi border have been giving up in large numbers this week after a ferocious assault on their enclave on Saturday and Sunday, but many remain inside, said the commander.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia has slowed its attack to allow thousands of civilians to leave Baghouz, continuing an exodus that began when it announced it was launching a final battle for the enclave last month.
Far more people were still in Baghouz than the SDF had expected, it said, and it wanted them all to leave before it either stormed the area or otherwise forced Islamic State’s surrender there.
“There are a large number of fighters who are inside and do not want to surrender,” said the senior SDF commander.
The fall of Baghouz would mark the end of the rule of Islamic State’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” over populated territory, although some fighters are still hiding out in remote desert or have gone underground to wage a guerrilla insurgency.
A war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there were preparations in eastern Syria to announce the end of Islamic State there. Colonel Sean Ryan, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition backing the SDF, nevertheless said the international force had “learned not to put any timetables on the last battle”.
Syrian military air strikes against jihadist fighters further west, in the country’s central desert, were a reminder of the constant warnings by both Arab and Western officials that Islamic State will continue to pose a serious security threat.
After its sudden advance across swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, the group held about a third of both countries, but its wholesale slaughter or sexual enslavement of minorities and its grotesque public killings roused global anger.
Separate offensives by different forces in both countries steadily drove it back, inflicting major defeats on it in 2017, and eventually forcing it back on Baghouz, a little cluster of hamlets and farmland on the Euphrates.