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US-backed SDF to resume offensive against IS' last Syria enclave

Nearly 20,000 civilians and fighters have fled the IS enclave since February [AFP]

Date of publication: 10 March, 2019

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The battle to rid Syria of its last Islamic State group enclave will soon resume, a Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) official said on Saturday.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) could soon resume its offensive against the Islamic State group's last enclave in Syria, an official said on Saturday.

The battle to retake Baghouz has been ongoing for the past few weeks but has often been halted to allow for the evacuation of civilians.

The offensive could restart on Saturday night or Sunday, Aras Orkesh, an official of the SDF said, adding that the Kurdish-led forces had about 2,500 fighters ready to begin the battle.

An area on the east bank of the Euphrates River in the province of Deir el-Zour that borders Iraq has been under attack by SDF since September.

After capturing surrounding towns and villages, the SDF in recent weeks advanced on Baghouz from three sides, besieging it.

Hundreds of IS fighters, along with thousands of civilians, mostly women and children, have left the Baghouz after the SDF alternately applied military pressure and allowed time for evacuees to come out. In the past two weeks, many fighters appeared to be among those evacuating.

Read more: The Islamic State group will be back after Baghouz

But some IS militants are refusing to leave the small patch of land and are vowing to continue their fight.

Under the cover of heavily coalition bombing last week, the SDF advanced on Baghouz and opened a corridor to allow for the evacuation of thousands of civilians and fighters. Since Friday, however, only a small group left Baghouz, prompting speculations that a renewed military offensive was being planned.

Almost 20,000 people, including 3,500 to 4,00 adult males, have left the IS enclave since February 20, a senior US defense official told AP.

"What's holding us up is the civilians, we can see them, women and children inside," he said.

Although the SDF estimates the battle will take another three days, the US defense official said it could take weeks to fully retake Baghouz.

"The [IS] population being evacuated from the remaining vestiges of the caliphate largely remains unrepentant, unbroken and radicalised," leading US general Joseph Votel warned on Thursday. 

"We will need to maintain a vigilant offensive against this now widely dispersed and disaggregated organisation."

 

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