BAGHOUZ, Syria – Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-led coalition are keeping up the pressure on the last ISIS holdouts in Baghouz, eastern Syria – a tent camp just half a kilometre square.
Coalition jets pound ISIS positions from the side and the SDF are attacking them on three sides from the ground.
“Our forces have liberated this region. This is the place where civilians were staying. Our fighters went to check the area, which is 50 metres from here. There are some clashes behind us. Overall the distance between us and Daesh is less than 100 metres,” Mustafa Bali, the head of SDF’s media office, explained as he escorted Rudaw to an area of the tent camp their forces now control.
ISIS snipers closely watch the routes leading to the camp. Smoke rises above the ragged tents and the steady crack of gunfire fills the air.
An estimated 2,500 people – militants and their families – remain in the camp, though setting a firm number is difficult since ISIS is using a network of tunnels and trenches dug on the shores of the Euphrates River.
“There are Daesh fighters in that house. They are hiding in the tunnels,” said an SDF fighter, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“It’s a street war now,” said another SDF fighter. “ISIS fighters are some metres away from us. One of the foreign fighters came close. I told him to surrender and he would live. But he didn’t surrender. I shot him, but missed.”
The SDF resumed its offensive against ISIS on Sunday evening after weeks of delay to give civilians and those who want to surrender the chance to evacuate. Thousands did so.
Those who remain will likely fight to the death.
ISIS released a new video on Tuesday in which they appeared defeated. Footage of the beleaguered tent camp is markedly different from the triumphant clips the jihadists published when they controlled swathes of territory across Iraq and Syria.
“Why are we being bombarded by airplanes? Why do all the heathen countries of the world gather to fight us? What is our sin? What is our crime?… It was that we wanted to implement Allah’s sharia [law],” a militant identified as Abou Abdulaadhim is seen saying.
He declared that even if they are “wiped out” it will be a “victory” because he will soon be in “paradise.”
In the video, a mini bus with a mounted megaphone is seen driving through the camp as a militant urges people to ask forgiveness from God.
The SDF are trying to open a safe exit route so that any civilians who want to leave can do so.