MON 24 - 6 - 2019
Mar 7, 2019
The Daily Star
Hundreds of Daesh militants try to escape, surrender
NEAR BAGHOUZ, Syria: Hundreds of Daesh (ISIS) militants surrendered Wednesday and hundreds more of their comrades were caught trying to escape the militant group’s last, tiny scrap of land in eastern Syria, a commander in the militia besieging it said. Daesh militants holed up in the enclave at Baghouz near the Iraqi border have been giving up in large numbers this week after a ferocious assault on their enclave Saturday and Sunday, but many remain inside, the commander said.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces militia has slowed its attack to allow thousands of civilians to leave Baghouz, continuing an exodus that began when it announced it was launching a final battle for the enclave last month.
Far more people were still in Baghouz than the SDF had expected, it said, and it wanted them all to leave before it either stormed the area or otherwise forced Daesh’s surrender there.
“There are a large number of fighters who are inside and do not want to surrender,” the senior SDF commander said.
The fall of Baghouz would mark the end of the rule of Daesh’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” over populated territory, although some militants are still hiding out in remote desert or have gone underground to wage a guerrilla insurgency.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there were preparations in eastern Syria to announce the end of Daesh there.
Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition backing the SDF, nevertheless said the international force had “learned not to put any timetables on the last battle.”
Syrian military airstrikes against militants further west, in the country’s central desert, were a reminder of the constant warnings by both Arab and Western officials that Daesh will continue to pose a serious security threat.
Some 400 Daesh militants were captured trying to escape Baghouz along with smugglers, the senior SDF commander said.
Hundreds of others militants surrendered, though it was not yet clear how many, the commander added.
Those surrendering were among more than 2,000 people who left Baghouz Wednesday in the latest evacuation, transported by trucks to a patch of desert to be questioned, searched and given food and water.A group of women seen at a reception area set up in the desert, where they were screened by SDF officials, were rowdy, aggressive and defiant, praising Daesh and screaming angrily at journalists. Wearing black robes with a black face cover, they pointed their fingers at the group and screamed: “Islamic State will stay, God is great, God is great, Islamic State will stay!” A couple of women took off their shoes and raised them in the direction of journalists. “Take a picture of the shoe, the shoes are better than you,” one said. Children joined, raising their fingers in the air.
A 30-year-old Iraqi woman said her 1-month-old baby, who was sick, died overnight in the reception area from the cold.
“I didn’t want to leave except to treat her,” the woman who identified herself as Um Fatima said. She cursed the SDF and said: “The Islamic state will remain and expand, God willing,” and walked away.
A group of men were seated on the ground, under the watchful eye of SDF fighters, many of them covering their faces with checkered scarves.
Many among those leaving Wednesday appeared to be wives and children of Daesh militants.
The SDF said about 6,500 people had left the area over the previous two days, including hundreds of men. Most civilian evacuees are headed for the Al-Hawl displacement camp in northeast Syria.
The International Rescue Committee aid group said that of the 60,000 people in the camp, 50,000 had arrived since December, mostly from the shrinking Daesh enclave, including 4,000 Wednesday. Of the 90 people who have died reaching the camp since December, two-thirds were babies or infants, it said. Among those who came out Wednesday were 13 captive children from the Yazidi community.
Four Shiite children abducted from the Iraqi city of Tal Afar four years ago were also freed and the SDF would try to reunite them with their parents said Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the militia.
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