Tuesday 19 March 2019

Hundreds of Isil militia surrender as coalition claims 'battle over'

Fiery end: Baghouz in flames during the advance into the Isil enclave. Photo: Reuters
Fiery end: Baghouz in flames during the advance into the Isil enclave. Photo: Reuters

Rodi Said

Isil faced imminent defeat in its final enclave last night as hundreds of jihadist fighters and their families surrendered and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) claimed the battle was as good as over.

A Reuters journalist in Baghouz saw hundreds of people surrendering to the SDF, which launched its final attack to capture the town in northern Syria on Sunday, backed by US-led international coalition air strikes after weeks of siege.

The enclave is the last shred of territory held by the jihadists who have been driven from one-third of Iraq and Syria over the past four years.

The ferocious assault continued late last night. Live footage broadcast by the Kurdish Ronahi TV showed a series of large explosions lighting up the night sky over Baghouz, apparently from an ammunitions dump blowing up.

Smoke billowed past burning buildings, lit orange by flares and raging fires, as tracer fire poured into the enclave amid a constant sound of shooting and blasts.

SDF official Mustafa Bali said 1,500 to 2,000 Isil fighters and their families surrendered en masse yesterday.

"Once our forces confirm that everyone who wants to surrender has done so... the clashes will resume," he said. The jihadists' defeat was very near, he said.

The coalition said earlier there were an estimated "few hundred" foreign Isil fighters remaining in Baghouz who had decided to fight to the end.

The Baghouz enclave had been pounded on Monday with barrages of rockets, but the situation calmed yesterday morning before the intense bombardment resumed.

"The operation is over, or as good as over, but requires a little more time to be completed practically on the ground," SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said.

The SDF has laid siege to Baghouz for weeks but has repeatedly postponed its final assault to allow thousands of civilians, many of them wives and children of Isil fighters, to leave. It resumed the attack on Sunday.

Mr Gabriel said that 25 Isil fighters had been confirmed killed so far in clashes, in ­addition to an unknown number of militants killed by air strikes.

The SDF, which is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, has been advancing slowly into Baghouz to minimise its losses from sniper fire and landmines.

Irish Independent

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