BAGHOUZ (Kurdistan 24) – The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Thursday claimed to have managed to evacuate more than 2,000 people from the last pocket of territory held by the Islamic State in eastern Syria, near the border with Iraq.
Head of SDF media center, Mustafa Bali, told Kurdistan 24 that the evacuation process for civilians is ongoing in the village of Baghouz, in rural Deir al-Zor province in the eastern Euphrates valley.
“The militants are contained to a small area [of land], and they are protecting themselves by using those civilians as human shields,” he said.
“Some of our special forces are conducting operations [there] in attempts to free the remaining civilians and transfer them to a safe zone.”
He also said that once the evacuation of civilians is complete, a final assault will be launched on Baghouz to eradicate the Islamic State group.
Some 300 ISIS militants are still in Baghouz, but the SDF say they cannot launch attacks as long as civilians are still stranded in the village.
The remaining Islamic State militants in Baghouz refuse to surrender and give up their last pocket of territory and insist on fighting.
At the start of the operation in eastern Deir al-Zor, about 5,000 Islamic State militants were reported to be in the region.
More than 1,300 militants were killed, and thousands of others surrendered to the SDF, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group covering the war in Syria.
Civilians reaching SDF areas report that a majority of the remaining militants in Baghouz are foreigners who have large amounts of money and gold in their possession.
The fighting in Baghouz has slowed down, and the SDF have yet to release any statement regarding the timelines of a final assault.
Last week, the General Commander of the SDF’s Operation to Eliminate ISIS in Eastern Syria confirmed the military fall of the extremist group in the East Euphrates Valley was imminent and said victory would be declared in the coming days.
Nevertheless, the fighting continues, and the remaining militants are fiercely resisting but unable to launch counter-attacks as they used to in previous years.
Editing by Nadia Riva
(Additional reporting by Kurdistan 24 correspondent Akram Saleh)