BAGHOUZ: Hundreds of men, women and children trudged out of a remote eastern Syrian village on Thursday where the militant Islamic State (IS) group has been making a suicidal last stand against advancing US-backed forces.
All that remains of a sprawling cross-border “caliphate” the IS declared in 2014 is a battered riverside camp in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, and warplanes of a US-led coalition backing them, have rained fire on the enclave since Sunday, blitzing thousands of IS members into surrender.
Hundreds more followed on Thursday, slowly walking up the orange cliff overlooking the smouldering IS encampment in a bend of the Euphrates River.
Under the drizzle, men with thick beards struggled on crutches, while women stumbled under the weight of bags stuffed full, one with a toothbrush poking out of a back pocket.
Children followed, covered in dust and hair in disarray. When they saw the journalists, some started crying.
Most of the men appeared to be wounded. One man had an eye patch, another his arm in a sling.
Many, including the children, appeared to be foreigners.
An SDF spokesman said they were leaving after an “intensive offensive” on their last scrap of land by the Euphrates the night before.
“A large number of IS fighters and their families started to surrender to the #SDF since this morning,” he said in English on Twitter.
Hardliners inside the pocket have been hiding underground from air strikes by a US-led coalition, and unleashing suicide bombers on advancing forces.
A spokesman for the Kurdish units inside the village of Baghouz earlier on Thursday said this was slowing progress.
“Those who stayed inside are mostly suicide bombers blowing themselves up, which is impeding the advance,” said Jiaker Amed, a spokesman for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Thousands of IS family members, as well as suspected fighters, have poured out of the shrinking pocket in Baghouz in recent weeks.
Since the offensive resumed on Sunday, 3,000 IS members have surrendered, according to the SDF.
About 60,000 people have streamed out of IS-held territory since December, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says, around a tenth of them suspected militants.
Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2019