Heavy fighting erupts in last ISIS pocket in Syria after timeline expires
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) relaunched their offensive in Baghouz after the remaining Islamic State fighters refused to surrender.
The SDF gave the extremists an ultimatum on Friday to surrender, or prepare for battle.
In a public statement, Mustafa Bali, the head of the SDF media center, said the timeline the SDF had given the Islamic State fighters to surrender “is over.”
“Our forces [are] ready now to start and finish what is left in ISIS hands,” he added.
Separately, in a tweet on Sunday, Bali said the SDF began their offensive on Baghouz at 6 p.m. local time with coalition aircraft targeting Islamic State weapons storages.
The final push was initially put on hold by the US-led coalition and the SDF to save civilians and hostages that were being held captive by the remaining Islamic State fighters.
Fighters on the ground say the operation could have been finished by now, if not for the remaining civilians and hostages in Baghouz.
Civilians and Islamic State fighters continued to leave Baghouz on Saturday, but SDF commander Adnan Efrin said no civilians left the area on Sunday.
“Our forces will pause the offensive if we see more civilians who wish to evacuate the area or if there are any hostages that need to be freed,” Efrin told Kurdistan 24. “We don't want any further injuries or deaths and hope for a speedy victory.”
According to the SDF commander, the Kurdish-led forces had rescued tens of thousands of civilians during the past month with thousands of Islamic State members surrendering as well.
Meanwhile, Sean Ryan, a spokesperson for the US-led coalition, highlighted the patience, mercy, and compassion the SDF has shown “to an enemy that has shown none for their victims.”
“The SDF timeline to ISIS is over and they will resume military operations with Coalition support if needed,” Ryan told Kurdistan 24. “At this point, we do not know the numbers of fighters left.”
Mutlu Civiroglu, a Washington-based journalist and Kurdish affairs analyst, reporting on the ground, said there was a lot of gunfire and rocket exchanges following the SDF announcement that a military offensive had resumed.
There are still many die-hard Islamic State fighters inside Baghouz, together with their wives and children that refuse to surrender. However, SDF officials say it is unclear how many civilians and fighters remain in the area.
Layla Hassan, Co-President of the Deir al-Zor Civil Council, told Kurdistan 24 that although the Islamic State holds a small pocket in Baghouz, “there are still sleeper cells.”
“Hopefully we can work together [with the US-led coalition] to end the sleeper cells.”
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany