Monday 22 April 2019

Last pocket of Isil militants dig in as bombs rain down

Attack: Kurdish-led SDF fighters fire on Isil positions in Baghouz in eastern Syria. Photo: Reuters
Attack: Kurdish-led SDF fighters fire on Isil positions in Baghouz in eastern Syria. Photo: Reuters

Sarah El Deeb

Columns of black smoke billowed from the last small piece of territory held by Isil militants yesterday as US-backed fighters pounded the area with artillery fire and airstrikes.

Commanders of the Kurdish-led fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces said fierce clashes were taking place as they advanced toward the last speck of land controlled by Isil. The militants fought back with snipers, suicide bombs and booby traps.

Fires still smouldered from the area and ammunition exploded time and again, a day after an airstrike hit a building, setting off a huge blast.

"It must be a main weapons depot," said Sefqan, an SDF commander.

The US-backed forces resumed an offensive to recapture the tiny area in the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria on Friday night, after a two-week pause to allow for the evacuation of civilians from the area. Retaking the sliver of land would be a milestone in the devastating four-year campaign to end Isil's self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate that once straddled vast territory across Syria and Iraq.

However, the group continues to be a threat, with sleeper cells in scattered desert pockets along the porous border between the two countries.

A few hundred Isil militants, many of them believed to be foreign fighters, remain holed up inside Baghouz, with an unknown number of civilians.

Machine guns could be heard echoing across the territory. Journalists in Baghouz saw black smoke from an apparent strike on a barrel of fuel. Gunfire followed another strike on the edge of the camp. Burned vehicles could be seen, abandoned in farmland beyond the village. Through binoculars, Isil fighters could be seen walking around.

Mustafa Bali, the SDF spokesman, said coalition airstrikes destroyed several car bombs during the past two days of battle in Baghouz. He said three car bombs trying to reach SDF positions were destroyed.

"The night for us and the morning for them," said Abu Ghadab, another commander of the SDF. The militants usually attack during the day as they don't have night vision goggles while the SDF advances at night, he explained.

Irish Independent

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