‘Taking their last breath’: IS hides among Syrian civilians – ITV News, UK


Original article by ITV, 17 Feb, 2019

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From a self-proclaimed caliphate that once spread across much of Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State group has been knocked back to a speck of land on the countries’ shared border.

In that tiny patch on the banks of the Euphrates River, hundreds of militants are hiding among civilians under the shadow of a small hill encircled by forces waiting to declare the territorial defeat of the extremist group.

A spokesman for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighting the militants said on Sunday that the group is preventing civilians from leaving the area, closing a corridor from which nearly 40,000 residents have managed to escape since December.

“They are taking their last breath,” said Dino, an SDF fighter deployed at a base near the front line in the village of Baghouz, about two miles from the militants’ last spot.

Footage acquired by ITV News shows some of the Arab and Kurdish SDF fighters in Baghouz saying goodbye to their comrades.

In Hajin, a major center for the militants that fell to the SDF in December, some residents have begun to return but the town remains battered by the fighting and airstrikes.

Small shops selling tools and construction material have sprung up.

For weeks, the militants fought desperately for their shrinking territory.

Once in control of about a third of Syria and Iraq, they now are down to what SDF officials describe as a small tented village atop a network of tunnels and caves.

But they are holding on to hundreds of civilians some of them possibly hostages taking cover among them at the edge of Baghouz, the village in eastern Deir el-Zour province.

“Regrettably, Daesh have closed all the roads,” preventing civilians from leaving, said Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led SDF, referring to IS by its Arabic acronym.

The extremists may include high-level commanders, and the presence of possible captives could explains the slow final push, they added.

While the final push continues many liberated villages such as Al-Susah still bear the signs of the hard fights that have taken place there.

It has been a long and destructive battle.

In decline since 2016, the militant group was stripped of its self-declared capital of Raqqa, in Syria, in the summer of 2017, leaving behind a destroyed city whose residents are still struggling to return.

The SDF is holding 900 foreign fighters in lockups and camps in northern Syria, and their fate is a major concern, particularly as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw from Syria.

In a tweet Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump called on Britain, France and Germany and other European countries to take back their militants and put them on trial at home.

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The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial. The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them……..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2019

“The Caliphate is ready to fall,” Trump said. He suggested the alternative would be that the U.S. would be forced to release them.

“We do so much, and spend so much – Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!” he added. Last updated Sun 17 Feb 2019