Last pocket of Isil militants dig in as bombs rain down

Ossie and Zehra

Ossie and Zehra

Hareth was 11 years old when the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria carved out its "caliphate" in both Iraq and Syria, killing thousands of civilians and attracting an array of enemies that have fought from the air and on the ground to uproot the jihadists.

The Syrian Democratic Forces closing in on Islamic State's last territorial bastion near the Iraqi border expect a "decisive battle" soon, a spokesman says.

Earlier, Bali told VOA that SDF forces were fighting street-to-street against the IS fighters defending a patch of land covered by tents and broken buildings.

Mustafa Bali of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces tweeted Saturday that "heavy clashes" are taking place in the area on the east bank of the Euphrates River.

On Sunday, the SDF faced landmines, vehicle bombs, tunnel ambushes and suicide attacks as they attempted to overrun the enclave - tactics the jihadist group has honed through its hard-fought retreat down the Euphrates.

Releasing them is a gesture of "cooperation, fraternity and clemency", said the statement posted on the website of the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

According to a spokesman with the Kurdish YPG militia, which has also been taking part in the battle against IS, at least four US -backed troops had been injured. The only aid group at the evacuation site, the Free Burma Rangers, estimated that at least 10,000 civilians have left the IS pocket since February 20, in trips organized by the SDF.

The self-proclaimed "caliphate" which once controlled almost a third of both Iraq and Syria has been backed into a last remaining citadel of a few hundred fighters.

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The military operation was halted on February 12 after the SDF discovered there was still a large number of civilians and hostages in the territory, which sits atop caverns and tunnels where they had been hiding.

A woman walks with her children at a USA -backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) screening area after being evacuated out of the last territory held by Islamic State militants in the desert outside Baghouz. But SDF officials rejected those accounts.

"We will keep fighting until we break into their last defense line", she added.

U.S. President Donald Trump's National Security Adviser, John Bolton, described the territory ISIS holds as an "insignificant piece of real estate".

"We just took over, you know, you kept hearing it was 90 percent, 92 percent, the caliphate in Syria. Now it's 100 percent", he said while visiting with USA troops at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska on Thursday. Warplanes from the USA -led coalition flew overhead.

"It must be a main weapons depot", said Sefqan, a commander using only his nom de guerre.

Another official cautioned, "Victory doesn't seem to be coming in next days".

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