SDF Expels ISIS from Last East Syria Stronghold

Saturday, 16 February, 2019 - 09:15
Asharq Al-Awsat

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have captured ISIS’ last remaining enclave in eastern Syria, announced the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Saturday.

The UK-based war monitoring group stated the last few hundred terrorists, many of them foreigners, had surrendered in the past two days to the US-backed SDF.

It said some militants may still be hiding in underground tunnels.

"We will very soon bring good news to the whole world," said Ciya Furat, a commander with the SDF, speaking at a news conference at the al-Omar Oil Field Base in the Deir Ezzour province.

With the help of US air strikes, the SDF has battled to crush ISIS in the shrinking Baghouz enclave east of the Euphrates river near the Iraqi border.

"Large numbers" of civilians remain in the area prompting a fresh delay in a final advance, the SDF said Saturday.

"There are still civilians inside in large numbers," spokesman Adnan Afrin told AFP.

"We weren’t expecting this number, otherwise we wouldn’t have resumed the campaign four days ago. This is why it’s been delayed," he added.

"We are dealing with this small pocket with patience and caution. It is militarily fallen but civilians are used as human shields," SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told The Associated Press. Bali added that the SDF believes that ISIS gunmen are also holding previously kidnapped Syrians in the area.

Saturday’s development came shortly after US President Donald Trump said he had “a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication” of ISIS over the next 24 hours.

An Associated Press team in Baghouz Saturday, hundreds of meters away from the last speck of land where ISIS militants were holed up, saw several aircraft overhead and two airstrikes hit the area.

Despite the expected defeat on the ground, activists and residents say ISIS still has sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq and is laying the groundwork for an insurgency.

The group has claimed responsibility in recent months for deadly attacks, mostly in Iraq, more than a year after the Iraqi government said the extremists have been defeated after losing the northern city of Mosul in 2017, the largest they held.

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