In Syrian riverside camp, IS clings to last scrap of 'caliphate' • The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

In Syrian riverside camp, IS clings to last scrap of ‘caliphate’

Holdout Islamic State group fighters hunkered down in a riverside camp in eastern Syria Friday as US-backed forces looked to expel them from the last scrap of their dying “caliphate”.

Thousands of men and women have poured out of the pocket of territory in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border in recent days, suitcases and dust-covered children in tow.

The extremist group created a proto-state across large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014, ruling millions of people, but has since lost all of it except a tiny patch in Baghouz by the Euphrates River.

The last IS fighters and their families are cornered by the advancing US-backed forces in an improvised encampment on the water’s edge.

Footage obtained by AFP showed men, as well as women draped in black, walking among a sea of pickup trucks and rudimentary tents scattered across the uneven riverbank.

A black cow grazed on a patch of dry grass between the makeshift dwellings.

The images, filmed by the Free Burma Rangers aid group, showed a motorbike darting between a dark earth berm topped with clumps of reeds and a line of temporary shelters.

Just a few metres from the river, a few figures sat behind a wall of breeze-blocks erected among a thick bed of reeds, shielding them from the other side of the waterway, which is held by regime troops.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, who are backed by air power of a US-led coalition, are waiting for all civilians to be evacuated before moving in to retake the last scrap of IS-held territory.

SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin said no civilians had been evacuated on Friday, but expected more to flow out on Saturday.

“The situation has completely stalled except for some intermittent clashes,” he added on the situation on the frontline.

In the neighbouring desert hamlet of Sousa, nearly destroyed by earlier battles to push out IS, Kurdish women fighters from the SDF gathered to mark International Women’s Day.

Amid bullet-pocked homes and gaping holes in roads hit by air strikes, the fighters waved flags for the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) and performed a traditional dance around a fire to music blasted out of a loudspeaker.

More than 7,000 people, mostly women and children, have left the Baghouz enclave this week, into territory held by the Kurdish-led SDF.

A stream of wounded men has emerged from the dregs of the “caliphate”, limping on crutches or supported by others.

Around a tenth of the nearly 58,000 people who have fled the last IS bastion since December were jihadists, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor.

It is unclear how many people remain inside, but the SDF has been surprised by the seemingly endless exodus from the final jihadist redoubt.

At the height of its rule, IS imposed its brutal interpretation of Islam across an area the size of the United Kingdom.

After it lost major cities in both countries in 2017, the fall of Baghouz would be a symbolic end to its territorial control.

But many warn the battle is far from over, and some of those fleeing jihadist territory appear to have their devotion intact.

At an SDF position outside Baghouz this week, women covered from head to toe in black stood in front of journalists, pointing their index fingers to the sky in a gesture used by IS supporters to proclaim the oneness of God.

“The Islamic State is here to stay!” they cried in unison.

One woman added: “We will seek vengeance, there will be blood up to your knees.” General Joseph Votel, head of the US Central Command, warned Thursday that many of those being evacuated are “unrepentant, unbroken and radicalised”.

He stressed the need to “maintain a vigilant offensive against this now widely dispersed and disaggregated organisation”.

Beyond Baghouz, IS fighters are still present in Syria’s vast Badia desert and have claimed deadly attacks in SDF-held territory.

US President Trump stunned allies in December when he announced all 2,000 US troops would withdraw from Syria as IS had been defeated.

The White House later said that around 200 American “peace-keeping” soldiers would remain in northern Syria.

Syria’s Kurds hold hundreds of foreigners accused of fighting for IS, and family members, but their home nations have been reluctant to take them back.

Baghouz is the latest front in Syria’s eight-year civil war, which has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions.

Source: In Syrian riverside camp, IS clings to last scrap of ‘caliphate’ | Business Standard News

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