ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Islamic State fighters are using a network of tunnels under the village of Baghouz, eastern Syria, to avoid being targeted by coalition warplanes and Kurdish-led forces, which have resumed attacks on the last jihadist redoubt.
Coalition jets are targeting Islamic State (ISIS) positions inside the besieged village, including weapons depots and food stores.
Fierce fighting is expected to continue late into the night on Monday, according to Rudaw’s reporter on the front line.
“Daesh fighters are hiding in the tunnels,” an Arab fighter with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) told Rudaw, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“It is a street fight. ISIS fighters are only meters away from us. I asked one of their foreign fighters, who came close, to surrender and his life will be protected, but he refused.”
Hawar News, a media agency close to the ruling authority of Rojava, reported that progress has been slowed further by the density of landmines in the area.
Advancing forces face another hidden foe, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told Rudaw – snipers, using tunnels and spider holes to target reconnaissance teams.
“Our forces have liberated this area. This area was inhabited by civilians. About 50 of our comrades went in there, 50 meters from here, for reconnaissance,” said Bali, adding there is only a distance of 100 meters between their forces and ISIS.
Fighting has repeatedly paused in recent weeks as the SDF opened corridors to allow civilians and surrendering ISIS members to evacuate.
Those who cross SDF lines are interrogated. Suspected militants are taken into custody, while civilians and the families of fighters are removed to makeshift camps.
If no more families emerge from the village within the next three days, the SDF and coalition will launch their final push into Baghouz, SDF officials told Rudaw.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, UK-based war monitor, says a further 340 ISIS fighters and their families left Baghouz in the last 48 hours, bring the total to emerge from the last ISIS redoubt to almost 50,000.