Isis caliphate on brink of defeat as Syrian forces take control of jihadist tent city

Syrian Democratic Forces say battle will be over soon 

Richard Hall
Middle East Correspondent
Tuesday 19 March 2019 13:05 GMT
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US-backed Syrian forces are close to capturing the last territory under Isis control, after taking most of a tent city where the group has made its last stand.

Although scattered clashes were continuing on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said the battle would end “very soon”.

“This is not a victory announcement, but a significant progress in the fight against Daesh,” said Mustafa Bali, on Twitter.

“The battles are not yet over. There are still some pockets next to the river. Some of the terrorists have taken their children as human shields. There are intermittent clashes,” Mr Bali continued.

It is believed the Kurdish-led forces have also captured a group of suspects involved in a bombing that killed four Americans in January.

The battle to secure the last piece of the once mighty caliphate has gone on longer than anyone expected. Cornered in the small village of Baghouz, in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province, the group’s most experienced fighters have put up a fierce fight.

An exodus of people has filed out of the village over the past two months, surprising Syrian and US officials. Some 60,000 people have fled the group’s dwindling enclave, nearly half of whom were surrendering supporters of Isis, including some 5,000 fighters.

In the last few weeks, Isis had been surrounded in a tent city on the edge of the village, which lies on the bank of the Euphrates, along with thousands of civilians.

The battle has stopped and started many times, but there are signs that the caliphate is seeing its last days.

The SDF, which is backed by a US-led coalition set up to fight Isis, said it had captured 157 mostly foreign fighters on Monday, as they tracked efforts by jihadists to break out of the enclave and escape their besiegers.

Even on the brink of defeat, the group’s propaganda division continued to function.

On Monday night Isis released an audio recording of its spokesperson, Abu Hassan al-Muhajer, saying the group would stay strong.

“Do you think the displacement of the weak and poor out of Baghouz will weaken the Islamic State? No,” he said.

It also put out a video recording from inside the Baghouz camp, showing fighters shooting out at the encircling forces and a mess of stationary vehicles and makeshift shelters around them.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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