Assault on Daesh redoubt grinds on


BAGHOUZ — A shroud of black smoke covered Daesh (so-called IS) group’s last Syria redoubt on Monday as US-backed forces battled holdout jihadists after a night of shelling and heavy airstrikes.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic forces have been closing in on Daesh fighters holed up in a small sliver of territory in the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria since January.

A cluster of rudimentary tents and vehicles is all that remains of the once-sprawling “caliphate” declared across large swaths of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children have poured out of the small farming village in recent weeks, slowing down an SDF offensive aimed at crushing the last vestige of the jihadist proto-state.

Backed by airstrikes by the US-led coalition, the SDF pummeled the Daesh pocket with shelling on Sunday night, pushing deeper into the jihadist encampment.

Ground battles and artillery attacks continued on Monday morning as the Kurdish-led force worked to consolidate its most recent gains, SDF spokesman Jiaker Amed told AFP.

“Our forces have advanced but clashes have been ongoing since last night,” he said. On a hilltop overlooking the bombed-out bastion, an AFP correspondent heard the sound of gunfire and heavy shelling ring out.

Men, believed to be jihadists, could be seen shuffling inside the redoubt, beneath a plume of smoke that obscured most of the encampment.

Crouching behind rocks, SDF fighters opened fire at Daesh fighters that appeared near the banks of the Euphrates River.

Ground offensive

“The SDF ground offensive has been very effective,” coalition spokesman Sean Ryan told AFP on Monday.

“The SDF continues to pursue a deliberate, methodical approach to removing the last remaining territory under Daesh,” he said.

An SDF official who asked not to be named told AFP on Monday that his force has seized a cluster of buildings from jihadists in the latest bout of fighting.

SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali on Sunday night said his force captured “several positions” inside the pocket.

“SDF is now holding positions inside the camp,” he said on Twitter.

It remains unclear exactly how many people remain inside the last Daesh pocket but SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel on Sunday said that those quitting the area put the number at up to 5,000 people.

The Kurd-led force has also shied away from giving a timeline for the operation but Gabriel said that he hopes it would not take more than a week before jihadists are flushed out.

At an SDF outpost inside Baghouz on Sunday night, an AFP correspondent saw Kurdish fighters launching artillery shells toward Daesh positions from a nearby rooftop.

Shelling and coalition airstrikes engulfed the area in a crimson blaze.

After a momentary lull, the crackle of gunfire filled the air.

“They have started to respond,” said one SDF fighter, referring to jihadists.

“They will resist... these are their bullets.” — AFP

US-backed forces battle militants after a night of shelling and heavy airstrikes