ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – After a night of intense clashes between Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Islamic State militants in Baghouz, hundreds of ISIS fighters and their families exited their camp and surrendered on Thursday.
ISIS is cornered in a tent camp on the banks of the Euphrates River near Baghouz, in Syria’s eastern Deir ez-Zor province. The SDF have broken into the camp on the western side, but progress is limited because of the presence of civilians.
“We are slowly going forward. If it hadn’t been for their families, our campaign would have been done long ago. There isn’t much left of the campaign,” an SDF fighter told Rudaw.
The militants in Baghouz have two choices, Mustafa Bali, SDF spokesperson, told media: they either surrender unconditionally or get killed.
The SDF mostly progress at night because that is when civilians are hiding but jihadists are on the move, the SDF fighter explained to Rudaw.
“We are slowly going forward in the night so that our comrades don’t get martyred or injured and so that nothing happens to the women and children,” he said.
Veiled women and their young, wailing children struggled over the rough terrain, laden down with their possessions as they straggled into SDF-controlled territory. Haggard men, some injured, shuffled along and the occasional crack of gunfire or the bang of an explosion could be heard.
“Our forces are advancing continuously on a number of fronts… the pace is very slow because of the civilians still trapped inside areas under the control of the Daesh mercenaries,” a female SDF fighter told Rudaw, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
The SDF is keeping open a corridor for families to evacuate and militants to surrender. On Thursday, 1,300 people – families and fighters – turned themselves in, Bali tweeted. More than 60,000 people have evacuated the Baghouz area since December, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Not all are giving up on their so-called caliphate that once covered swathes of Syria and Iraq.
In the past 24 hours, ISIS attempted more than 20 suicide attacks, according to the SDF.
“Despite the ferocity of the battles and clashes on all fronts and axes, none of our fighters got hurt or damaged,” the force stated, adding they have killed or injured 112 ISIS militants.
The Observatory has documented 11 SDF fighters killed.
Reporting from Viviyen Fatah