SOUSA: US-backed forces consolidated their positions around the IS group’s last redoubt in eastern Syria on Friday as the country’s devastating conflict entered its ninth year with more than 370,000 dead.
All that remains of a once sprawling proto-state that the IS militants declared in 2014 is a battered riverside camp in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and warplanes of a US-led coalition backing them, have rained fire on the enclave since Sunday, blitzing thousands of IS members into surrender.
The Kurdish-led force said “1,300 terrorists and their families” gave themselves up on Thursday alone as its fighters slowed their advance to allow them to exit the enclave.
AFP correspondents on the ground said on Thursday night was relatively calm apart from limited air strikes, as the SDF said its fighters were consolidating their positions after militant counter-attacks and foiled suicide bombings.
The force was “consolidating and rotating its troops”, an SDF spokesman said.
“There are still women and children who want to surrender, so we are obliged to slow down operations,” Jiaker Amed said in the neighbouring village of Sousa.
“Operations risk being slowed again today to allow more departures of militants and their families,” Amed said, but he was unable to give an estimate for the number of people left inside Baghouz.
“Those left are strongly attached to the (militants’) ideology,” he said. “There are a lot of suicide bombers but there are also families and children.”
Since the months-old SDF offensive resumed on March 10, 3,000 IS suspected members have surrendered, according to the SDF.
A total of about 60,000 people have streamed out of IS-held territory since December, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says, a tenth of them suspected militants.
The exodus has sparked a humanitarian crisis in Kurdish-held camps for the displaced, where women and children have arrived exhausted after weeks of siege.
These include the wives and children of alleged foreign militants, hundreds of whom are being held by the Kurdish forces.
The International Rescue Committee says 120 people — mainly young children — have died on their way to the camp or after arrival.
Eight years of war in Syria have left more than 370,000 people dead including 112,000 civilians, the Syrian Observatory said, raising its last toll of over 360,000 issued in September.
The Britain-based monitoring group, which has a network of sources across Syria, said that more than 21,000 children and 13,000 women were among the dead.
The conflict flared after unprecedented anti-government protests in the southern city of Daraa on March 15, 2011.
Demonstrations spread across Syria and were brutally suppressed by the regime, triggering a multi-front armed conflict that has drawn in foreign powers and militant groups.
Over 125,000 Syrian government soldiers and pro-regime fighters figure in the latest death toll, the Observatory said.
It said other fighters, including rebels and Kurds, accounted for 67,000 of those killed. — AFP