Backed fighters make limited advances against IS in Syria

A fighter of Syrian Democratic Forces loads a weapon in the village of Baghouz in Syria Sunday. — Reuters

A fighter of Syrian Democratic Forces loads a weapon in the village of Baghouz in Syria Sunday. — Reuters

The official who could not be identified by name under Pentagon ground rules said that almost all of the 20,000 people, including women and children who left the area held by IS recently, are seen as IS followers or adherents.

A month ago the SDF launched what it called a "final battle" to take the cluster of houses and farmland, and people leaving the enclave have described harrowing conditions of peril and hardship.

The SDF, spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, has been the main U.S. partner in Syria and has steadily driven the group down the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, forcing its fighters and followers to fall back to Baghouz.

About 3,000 people were evacuated on Monday and another 3,500, including 500 militants who surrendered, followed on Tuesday.

Islamic State on Saturday said it had carried out a suicide vehicle bomb attack near the Syrian town of Manbij to signal to foreign troops that they are not safe in the country.

A US defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the United States did not believe senior Islamic State leaders were still in Baghouz.

"Since the 1st of January 2019, every single day, a child has died fleeing the fight against ISIS", UNICEF head Geert Cappelaere told a news conference in Beirut.

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Twitter that its forces were engaged in "direct violent clashes" and that its planes were targeting weapons depots.

The SDF said Sunday it had started an attack to capture Daesh's last remaining shred of territory in eastern Syria after the terror group failed to meet a deadline to surrender.

Since December, almost 59,000 people have left the IS-held territory, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Daesh members walk in the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz
Daesh members walk in the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz

After controlling a third of the territory in Iraq and Syria, Baghouz is the last remant of the "caliphate" declared by Islamic State (IS) in 2014.

The jihadists had their own courts, currency and school curriculum, and meted out bloody punishment to anyone who disobeyed their rule. In Syria, their comrades hold out in remote desert areas and have carried out bombings in areas controlled by the SDF.

The United States is expected to keep 200 "peace-keeping" troops in Syria after the end of the offensive, despite President Donald Trump's shock announcement in December that all 2,000 American soldiers would leave.

The aid group International Rescue Committee said at least 6,000 women and children arrived from Baghouz to al-Hol displaced people's camp on Thursday alone, bringing the total of evacuees over two days to 12,000.

Thousands of women and children also left Baghouz, with many of them sick or seriously injured.

Suspected jihadists have also been detained after exiting among the crowd.

Among the IS fighters detained and civilians placed in displacement camps are a number of foreign nationals.

Syria's Kurds hold hundreds of foreigners accused of fighting for Daesh as well as members of their families.

"We still hold many fighters from Arab and European countries and have called on their home countries to take them back".

Reema Iqbal, 30, and her sister Zara, 28, left east London for Syria in 2013, and between them now have five boys under the age of eight, The Sunday Times newspaper said.

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