Baghouz (Syria) (AFP) – A shroud of black smoke coated the Islamic State group’s final Syria redoubt on Monday as US-backed forces battled holdout jihadists after an evening of shelling and heavy air strikes.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic forces have been closing in on IS fighters holed up in a small sliver of territory within the village of Baghouz in jap Syria since January.
A cluster of rudimentary tents and automobiles is all that is still of the once-sprawling “caliphate” declared throughout massive swaths of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014.
Tens of 1000’s of males, girls and kids have poured out of the small farming village in latest weeks, slowing down an SDF offensive geared toward crushing the final vestige of the jihadist proto-state.
Backed by air strikes by the US-led coalition, the SDF pummelled the IS pocket with shelling on Sunday night time, pushing deeper into the jihadist encampment.
Floor battles and artillery assaults continued on Monday morning because the Kurdish-led power labored to consolidate its most up-to-date features, SDF spokesman Jiaker Amed advised AFP.
“Our forces have superior however clashes have been ongoing since final night time,” he mentioned.
On a hilltop overlooking the bombed-out bastion, an AFP correspondent heard the sound of gunfire and heavy shelling ring out.
Males, believed to be jihadists, could possibly be seen shuffling contained in the redoubt, beneath a plume of smoke that obscured many of the encampment.
Crouching behind rocks, SDF fighters opened hearth at IS fighters that appeared close to the banks of the Euphrates River.
– Floor offensive –
“The SDF floor offensive has been very efficient,” coalition spokesman Sean Ryan advised AFP on Monday.
“The SDF continues to pursue a deliberate, methodical strategy to eradicating the final remaining territory underneath Daesh,” he mentioned, utilizing an Arabic acronym for IS.
An SDF official who requested to not be named advised AFP on Monday that his power has seized a cluster of buildings from jihadists within the newest bout of preventing.
SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali on Sunday night time mentioned his power captured “a number of positions” contained in the pocket.
“SDF is now holding positions contained in the camp,” he mentioned on Twitter.
It stays unclear precisely how many individuals stay contained in the final IS pocket however SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel on Sunday mentioned that these quitting the realm put the quantity at as much as 5,000 individuals.
The Kurd-led power has additionally shied away from giving a timeline for the operation however Gabriel mentioned that he hopes it might not take greater than per week earlier than jihadists are flushed out.
At an SDF outpost inside Baghouz on Sunday night time, an AFP correspondent noticed Kurdish fighters launching artillery shells in the direction of IS positions from a close-by rooftop.
Shelling and coalition air strikes engulfed the realm in a crimson blaze.
After a momentary lull, the crackle of gunfire crammed the air.
“They’ve began to reply,” mentioned one SDF fighter, referring to jihadists.
“They’ll resist… these are their bullets.”
– Mass exodus –
An SDF fighter advised AFP on Monday that 15 individuals, together with two girls from Turkey and Somalia, fled the camp in the direction of SDF-held territory on Sunday, shortly earlier than preventing erupted.
Greater than 66,000 individuals, principally civilians, have give up the final IS redoubt since January 9, in response to the SDF.
They embrace 37,000 civilians, 5,000 jihadists and round 24,000 of their kinfolk.
A further 520 IS fighters have been captured in particular operations by the SDF.
The large numbers have flummoxed Kurdish forces who’re struggling to accomodate jihadists in Kurdish-run detention centres additional north.
The exodus of civilians and kinfolk of fighters has additionally sparked a humanitarian disaster in Kurdish-run camps for the displaced, the largest of which is overcrowded thrice past capability.
The overall seize of Baghouz by the SDF would mark the tip of the cross-border “caliphate” it proclaimed greater than 4 years in the past.
However IS nonetheless retains a presence in jap Syria’s huge Badia desert and has sleeper cells within the northeast.
Baghouz is the newest entrance within the Syrian conflict that has killed 370,000 individuals because it began in 2011.