Syrian force expects mass evacuations from IS holdout

OMAr OIL FIELD: US-backed Syrian forces prepared on Monday for another round of evacuations from the IS group’s last shard of territory in Syria as conditions worsen in overcrowded camps for fleeing civilians.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have slowed down their offensive on the final IS pocket as they seek to evacuate civilians before a final push to crush fighters, who seized swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014 and declared a cross-border “caliphate”.
The Kurdish-led forces have evacuated nearly 5,000 men, women and children from the fighter redoubt on Wednesday and Friday, but none over the weekend, bringing them closer to defeating IS.
As spokesman said the SDF expected to evacuate a large and final batch of civilians from the fighter group’s crumbling proto-state on Monday.
“We expect a large number of civilians to exit today and we hope it will be the last batch,” the spokesman, Mustefa Bali, said at the Al Omar airbase, the main staging ground for the SDF’s offensive.
“According to what we heard from those who have left (the IS redoubt), there are nearly five thousand people still inside,” Bali said.
Holdout IS fighters and civilians, mostly relatives of fighters, are trapped in less than half a square kilometre in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.
“In the next few days, our forces will announce the defeat of the IS group,” Kurdish foreign affairs official Abdel Karim Omar said on Monday.
“But this does not mean that we have eliminated terrorism, which must be eradicated at the roots.”
Beyond Baghouz, IS still has thousands of fighters and sleeper cells scattered across several countries.
In Syria, it retains a presence in the vast Badia desert, and the fighters have claimed deadly attacks in SDF-held territory.
Thousands of suspected IS fighters have attempted to blend in with civilians fleeing the fighter group’s shrinking territory, including a large number of foreigners.
According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, around 46,000 people, including thousands of fighters , have streamed out of the Baghouz pocket since early December.
The SDF screens those exiting at an outpost outside the village to weed out potential IS fighters. — AFP