ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Kurdish-led forces in Syria have slowed their offensive on the last holdout of the Islamic State to protect civilians being used as human shields, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesperson confirmed early Monday.
The assault on the Islamic State resumed on Friday after the US-backed SDF evacuated what they believed was the last of the civilians held up in the terrorist group’s shrinking enclave located near Baghouz, a town in Deir al-Zor Province in eastern Syria.
“In order to free” and “avoid harming” the remaining civilians “who have been held by Da’esh [ISIS] terrorists to be used as human shields… our forces are advancing slowly,” SDF spokesperson, Musfata Bali, said in a statement.
The SDF had previously said they expected a “decisive battle” to take place soon after a two-day measured advance began on Friday, employed to avoid various traps laid down in the area and in underground tunnels by the militants residing in Baghouz.
“They still hold civilians and are lacing the tunnels with IEDs as well,” Col Sean Ryan, the international anti-ISIS coalition spokesman, told Reuters on Sunday.
Most of the remaining militants in the Baghouz area are reportedly foreign recruits, intent on fighting to the end, ignoring the SDF’s ultimatum to either lay down their weapons or face a final ground offensive.
The liberation of Baghouz from the grips of the Islamic State would put an end to four years of the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate, once a sprawling territory in Syria and Iraq where they ruled over millions of civilians.
Despite its territorial collapse in Iraq in late 2017, the Islamic State remains a security threat to the country as it conducts insurgency-style attacks on civilians and security forces alike, especially in areas the group once controlled.
Editing by Nadia Riva