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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 April 2019

Syrian Democratic Forces take up positions inside final ISIS encampment

Up to 5,000 ISIS fighters and their supporters may remain in Baghouz

The camp of Baghouz, Syria, where remaining ISIS fighters and their families are holding out, March 17 2019. AFP
The camp of Baghouz, Syria, where remaining ISIS fighters and their families are holding out, March 17 2019. AFP

US-backed fighters have taken positions inside ISIS’ last enclave in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced on Sunday, as the final assault against the extremists drags into its third month.

With fighting ongoing, the SDF were advancing into the ISIS redoubt, according to SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali.

“Fighting continues as the #SDF advancing into Daesh encampment,” he tweeted. “Several positions captured and an ammunition storage has been blown up by our forces. SDF is now holding positions inside the camp in #Baghouz.”

Since January 9 the SDF has been pounding Baghouz, the farming village in the Euphrates River Valley where ISIS has made a final encampment after being driven out of the rest of Deir Ezzour province.

The advance has been frequently halted while the SDF allows surrendering militants and civilians to leave the enclave, but with the SDF holding positions inside the encampment, a final victory could be imminent.

More than 60,000 people, about half of whom the SDF considers ISIS members, have already fled the enclave, a much higher number than was previously expected.

SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel told a news conference on Sunday that "an estimated 5,000 people" are still holed up inside Baghouz.

The encampment, built on farmland, is filled with abandoned vehicles and tarpaulin shelters. Media photographed people walking through the camp during a lull in fighting on Sunday.

Those leaving speak of living under near constant bombardment and facing food scarcity and lack of clean water. Many maintain their allegiance to ISIS, even after surrendering.

The US-led coalition has been instrumental in facilitating the SDF as it pushes ISIS from north-east Syria. The group defeated ISIS in its capital Raqqa in 2017 and since December has been advancing against its last redoubt in Deir Ezzour.

But the final territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria will not spell the end of the group, whose sleeper cells are already carrying out regular insurgent attacks across Deir Ezzour.

Updated: March 18, 2019 12:59 PM

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