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Truckloads of civilians leave Daesh enclave in Syria ahead of final battle

February 23, 2019 at 10:27 am

(L to R) French Major of the Wagram Task Force Francois-Regis Legrier explains military positions on a sand map to French Defence Minister Florence Parly, French General Jean-Marc Vigilant, US Army General Paul La-camera, and French ambassador to Iraq Bruno Aubert, at a French artillery forward operating base (FOB) near al-Qaim in Iraq’s western Anbar province opposite Syria’s Deir Ezzor region, a few kilometres away from the last scrap of territory held by Daesh, on 9 February 2019. [DAPHNE BENOIT/AFP/Getty Images]

Trucks loaded with civilians left the last Daesh enclave in eastern Syria on Friday, as US-backed forces waited to inflict final defeat on the surrounded militants. The evacuation, initially planned for Thursday, had hit a snag when the trucks sent in to bring out civilians from the enclave, returned empty.

According to Reuters, reporters near the front line at Baghouz saw dozens of trucks driving out with civilians inside them, but it was not clear if more remained in the tiny pocket.

The village is all that remains for Daesh in the Euphrates valley region that became its final populated stronghold in Iraq and Syria after it lost the major cities of Mosul and Raqqa in 2017.

The SDF has steadily driven the militants down the Euphrates after capturing their Syrian capital, Raqqa, in 2017, but does not want to mount a final attack until all civilians are out.

The US-led coalition which supports the SDF has said Daesh’s “most hardened fighters” remain holed up in Baghouz, close to the Iraqi frontier.

Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF’s media office, earlier told Reuters that more than 3,000 civilians were estimated to still be inside Baghouz and there would be an attempt to evacuate them on Friday.

Read: Daesh ‘caliphate’ on brink of defeat in Syria

“If we succeed in evacuating all the civilians, at any moment we will take the decision to storm Baghouz or force the terrorists to surrender,” he said.

Though the fall of Baghouz marks a milestone in the campaign against Daesh and the wider conflict in Syria, the militant group is still seen as a major security threat.

It has steadily turned to guerrilla warfare and still holds territory in a remote, sparsely populated area west of the Euphrates River – a part of Syria otherwise controlled by the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies.

The United States will leave “a small peacekeeping group” of 200 American troops in Syria for a period of time after a US pullout, the White House said on Thursday, as President Donald Trump pulled back from a complete withdrawal.

Trump in December ordered a withdrawal of the 2,000 troops, saying they had defeated Daesh militants in Syria.