Dying days of caliphate in Syria as IS fighters trapped

17 February, 2019 12:00 AM printer

BAGHOUZ: Jihadist fighters defending the last dreg of the Islamic State group’s “caliphate” Saturday were holed up in half a square kilometre of a village in eastern Syria, reports AFP.

US President Donald Trump said the fall of the IS proto-state would be announced Saturday, but a top Syrian commander said his forces had slowed down their advance to protect civilians.

The jihadists declared a “caliphate” in large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, but have since lost all of it but the tiny patch in eastern Syria near the border with Iraq.

Hundreds of metres (yards) from the frontline in the village of Baghouz, an AFP reporter heard artillery shelling and two air strikes on the jihadist holdout.   

Huge craters had been blown into the ground, and the road was lined with destroyed buildings and the skeletons of burned-out cars.

“IS is besieged in a neighbourhood that is estimated to be 700 metres long and 700 metres wide” in the village, said Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander Jia Furat.

“Baghouz is within our firing range but we are moving cautiously considering there are civilians still trapped there as human shields,” said Furat, the overall commander for the operation.

“In a very short time, not longer than a few days, we will officially announce the end of IS’s existence,” he told reporters at the Omar oil field turned SDF base.

Thousands of people have flooded out of Baghouz over the past week—mostly women and children related to IS fighters, but also suspected jihadists.

But SDF spokesman said there were “still civilians inside in large numbers”.

“We weren’t expecting this number... This is why it’s been delayed,” SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin told AFP.

Trump at around 1600 GMT on Friday said announcements over “the eradication of the caliphate” would be made “over the next 24 hours”.

On Saturday, US-led coalition spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan acknowledged that the timeline had slipped because of the presence of civilians inside.