Friday, 22 March, 2019

Islamic State launches counter attacks at last Syria enclave - SDF

Abu Abdel Adheem a member of the Islamic State is shown after surrendering to the SDF Abu Abdel Adheem a member of the Islamic State is shown after surrendering to the SDF
Jeannette Daniel | 15 March, 2019, 23:28

US -backed Syrian forces said Wednesday that Islamic State militants are putting up a desperate fight against their advances and staged a counterattack overnight from the tiny speck of land the extremists still hold in eastern Syria.

The second attack, launched in the afternoon, was "much stronger" than the first, the media office of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said in a note circulated to journalists.

A spokesman for the US-backed SDF told the AFP news agency that people continued to stream out of Baghouz, a collection of hamlets in eastern Syria where the fighters are staging their last stand.

Since December, nearly 59,000 people have left the last ISIS redoubt, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, around a tenth of them suspected jihadist fighters.

And while President Trump made his wishes to drawdown the United States' military footprint in the Middle East clear, the situation on the ground makes it increasingly uncertain whether the USA can achieve the goal of eliminating ISIS while removing American forces.

There were no casualties. The militant group's most hardened foreign fighters are holed up inside the enclave, the SDF has said.

The enclave is the last bit of territory held by ISIL soldiers who have been driven from roughly one-third of Iraq and Syria over the past four years.

"We will enter with full force and we will be at the forefront" of the advance, said the fighter.

The SDF has laid siege to Baghouz for weeks but had repeatedly postponed its final assault to allow thousands of civilians, many of them wives and children of Islamic State fighters, to leave.

"Number of Daesh (IS) members surrendered to us since yesterday evening has risen to 3,000", Syrian Democratic Forces spokesman Mustefa Bali tweeted Tuesday evening.

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White House national security adviser John Bolton defended President Donald Trump against claims that he prematurely declared defeat of the Islamic State.

As the battle against the Islamic State (IS) group in eastern Syria enters its final stages, the BBC's Jewan Abdi says the mood amongst numerous jihadists' supporters who have left the area - including women and children - remains defiant.

On Sunday, backed by US-led worldwide coalition air strikes, the SDF began its final assault on Baghouz.

The group still operates in remote territory elsewhere and it is widely believed it will continue to represent a potent security threat.

Bali added that three Yazidi women and four children had been rescued as well.

It said they were reaching the camp in a worse state than before.

"Tomorrow, God willing, we will be in paradise and they will be burning in hell", it showed an Islamic State member identified as Abu Abd al-Azeem saying.

Overnight, government forces rained incendiary bombs on the area, where a full-scale offensive was averted in September by an agreement brokered by Assad's Russian allies and Turkey, which backs his opponents and has forces on the ground.

Dozens have been killed in clashes in recent days.

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