BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – Islamic State faced imminent defeat in its final enclave on Tuesday as hundreds of jihadist fighters and their families surrendered and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said the battle was as good as over.
A Reuters journalist in Baghouz saw hundreds of people surrendering to the SDF, which launched its final attack to capture Baghouz on Sunday, backed by US-led international coalition air strikes after weeks of siege.
The enclave is the last shred of territory held by the jihadists who have been driven from roughly one third of Iraq and Syria over the past four years.
The ferocious assault continued late on Tuesday. Live footage broadcast by the Kurdish Ronahi TV showed a series of large explosions lighting up the night sky over Baghouz, apparently from an ammunitions dump blowing up.
Smoke billowed past burning buildings, lit orange by flares and raging fires, as tracer fire poured into the enclave amid the sound of constant shooting and blasts.
SDF official Mustafa Bali said on Twitter on Tuesday that the number of Islamic State members who had surrendered has risen to 3,000.
“Once our forces confirm that everyone who wants to surrender has done so … the clashes will resume,” he said, adding that the jihadists’ defeat was very near.
The coalition said in an email earlier on Tuesday there were an estimated “few hundred” foreign Islamic State fighters remaining in Baghouz who had decided to fight to the end.
The Baghouz enclave had been pounded on Monday with barrages of rockets, but the situation calmed on Tuesday morning before the intense bombardment resumed.
“The operation is over, or as good as over, but requires a little more time to be completed practically on the ground,” SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel told al-Hadath TV.
The SDF has laid siege to Baghouz for weeks but has repeatedly postponed its final assault to allow thousands of civilians, many of them wives and children of Islamic State fighters, to leave. It resumed the attack on Sunday.