Syria force makes gains in last IS redoubt


Baghouz (Syria) (AFP)

Kurdish-led fighters advanced in the Islamic State group's last bastion in eastern Syria, confining holdout jihadists to a tiny pocket on the edge of Baghouz village, the force said Tuesday.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said those IS fighters who had not yet surrendered had been forced out of their main encampment and cornered into a very small area on the banks of the Euphrates River.

"SDF is in control of the Daesh encampment area in Baghouz," spokesman Mustefa Bali said on Twitter in English, using the Arabic acronym for the jihadist group.

But SDF fighters have not taken up positions in the so-called encampment, a jumble of mangled vehicles, makeshift berms and tents on the edge of Baghouz village.

"This is not a victory announcement, but a significant progress in the fight against Daesh," Bali said.

After another night of fighting and the surrender of yet another batch of jihadist fighters, the few acres of land controlled by IS shrank further.

It is unclear how long the unknown number of holdout jihadists could last but Bali said some of them were still fighting back.

"Clashes are continuing as a group of ISIS terrorists who are confined into a tiny area still fight back," Bali said in English, using an alternative acronym for IS.

AFP reporters in Baghouz saw IS jihadists moving across the edges of the now mostly deserted encampment, and fighting taking place in an area closer to the river.

Backed by warplanes from the US-led coalition, the SDF launched their final assault on Baghouz on February 9.

The offensive, the last phase of a broad operation launched more than six months ago to wipe out the remnants of a "caliphate" declared in 2014, has been slowed by the presence inside the IS redoubt of a large number of civilians.

Tens of thousands of people -- jihadist fighters, their relatives and other civilians -- have poured out of the IS pocket in recent weeks.