JEDDAH: Kurdish fighters in eastern Syria prepared on Friday for a final assault on the last remnant of the Daesh “caliphate” in the village of Baghouz.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backbone of the US-led coalition against Daesh, had paused operations on the front line for five days after an offensive that began in September 2018.
With more than 99 percent of Daesh territory now recaptured, the final attack is being complicated by thousands of Daesh fighters trying to blend in with civilians fleeing the militants’ last bastion.
“The SDF is advancing very cautiously to ensure the safety of civilians that Daesh is using as human shields,” an SDF spokesman said.
The SDF has set up screening centres to process the droves of haggard people streaming out of Daesh-held territory. British, French, US and other forces are actively looking for wanted Daesh operatives among those fleeing the combat zone.
While Daesh will soon no longer have any territory in Iraq or Syria, its surviving fighters have reverted to guerrilla warfare. They operate sleeper cells and have carried out periodic hit-and-run attacks. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said such cells had killed at least 50 civilians and 135 SDF fighters in Kurdish-held territory since August.
Meanwhile truckloads of gaunt women and children fleeing Daesh territory arrive every day at Al-Hol camp in northeast Syria. “They’re just skin and bones when they get here,” said Kurdish Red Crescent pediatrician Dr. Antar Senno.
Medics at Al-Hol, which has been flooded with more than 25,000 refugees, lack the capacity to treat malnourished children and must send them to hospitals an hour away in Hasakeh.
“If we can catch them and send them to hospital, we can save their lives,” Senno said. “It’s not about the same day. It’s about the same minute.”
The Kurds, who have de facto autonomy in northeastern Syria, are also engaged in diplomatic talks over the fate of the region.
US President Donald Trump has ordered a troop withdrawal from Syria.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that most of the 2,000 US troops would be gone by March, with the pullout complete by April, leaving the Kurds scrambling for new allies.
“We are seeking a political solution in Syria, which requires an agreement with the government in Damascus. We have chosen a political agreement with Damascus because we don’t want secession from Syria,” senior Kurdish official Badran Jia Kurdi said.