|Date: Mar 15, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Hundreds of extremists surrender as SDF advances|
|BAGHOUZ, Syria: Daesh (ISIS) militants along with women and children surrendered in the hundreds to American-backed forces in eastern Syria Thursday as the extremists lost ground in their last shred of territory. Many of the men were limping as they crossed out of the Baghouz enclave along a dirt path over a rocky hill, with weeping children and fully veiled women, dragging suitcases and backpacks behind them.|
Some men trudged along on crutches with bandages wrapped around their legs. Women hoisted children onto their shoulders to get them up the hill, leaving strollers and blankets behind in the dust.
Adnan Afrin, a commander in the Syrian Democratic Forces, said hundreds of people were emerging, adding to the many thousands who have streamed out of Baghouz in recent weeks.
“They are coming out this way in case there are snipers or someone wants to attack,” Afrin added.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said some 1,300 militants and their families came out Thursday. SDF fighters said they included foreigners.
The men were of all ages and many were wounded. They were hunched over on crutches. One had an eye patch, another an arm in a sling. Dried blood stains streaked grubby beige trousers. Some men were wrapped in thick woolen kaftans, but nearly all sported thick black or graying beards.
“The situation is dramatic - you know that,” one of the men said.
An old man hobbled up, his calf smothered in bandages, his arm around a U.S.-backed fighter helping him along. “The camp. Many wounded,” he said in Arabic with a faint accent.
The militants surrendered during a pause in the U.S.-backed assault to seize the final patch of populated Daesh territory.
In the morning, explosions rang out at the front line as artillery fire pounded Baghouz and warplanes buzzed overhead.
The SDF, which the Kurdish YPG militia spearheads, said the militants had deployed more than 20 suicide bombers in counterattacks in the last two days. It said at least 112 militants had been killed since it resumed the offensive last weekend.
In part of the Daesh encampment that the SDF seized a few days ago, collapsed tents and fallen palm trees lay among a scattering of rubble and twisted metal.
Dirty, ripped blankets, carpets, mattresses and abandoned motorcycles littered the ground.
Overall, tens of thousands have fled Daesh’s shrinking territory in recent months. The SDF has mostly transferred to a camp at Al-Hol in the northeast. The U.N. has said the camp now holds around 67,000 people, 90 percent of them women and children - well beyond its capacity. Camp workers say they do not have enough tents, food or medicine.