U.S.-backed Syrian forces said they were close to defeating ISIS in its final scrap of territory at Baghouz in eastern Syria after seizing an encampment from the jihadists on Tuesday, though the battle was not over yet.
Hardened militant fighters holed up in the encampment had been mounting a last-stand defence of the Baghouz enclave, all that is left of ISIS’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” that once spanned a third of both Syria and Iraq.
“This is not a victory announcement, but a significant progress in the fight against Daesh,” said Mustafa Bali, a media official with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Twitter, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Bali said late on Tuesday clashes were ongoing and that fighters remain “in several pockets and their presence is not limited to a defined geography”.
The SDF captured hundreds of wounded militants when it overran the camp on Tuesday, Bali said. It also captured 157 mostly foreign fighters.
Footage obtained by Reuters showed dozens of people milling around the captured camp, preparing their belongings to leave in a convoy of trucks. None of those visible appeared to be armed.
Men believed to be ISIS fighters, women dressed in black robes and some children stood around the shabby camp area next to high rocks strewn with bits of tents and vehicles. A few of those visible used crutches or sticks to walk.
Footage from another part of the camp showed burnt-out cars, dozens of abandoned vehicles, shattered buildings and tents made out of blankets.
Asked by Reuters how long it would take to defeat the remaining jihadists, Bali said he expected the operation to end “very soon”, adding that some remaining militants had fallen back to the bank of the nearby Euphrates River.
“The battles are not yet over,” he said. “Some of the terrorists have taken their children as human shields. There are intermittent clashes.”