Saturday, March 16, 2019

Mopping Up ISIL in Eastern Syria

"Geography is a major factor in prolonging this fight and delaying our ultimate victory" 
"This is a flat region where they have firmly entrenched. Basically, Daesh militants can see us, but we can't see them or their movements during the daylight,"
another reason SDF has been focusing on night raids is that many IS "terrorists choose to surrender themselves during daytime."
Mustafa Bali, spokesperson, SDF

"[IS] is sending suicide bombers toward SDF fighters all the time, so that's why the SDF has been attacking at night, which is the only time they are in full control of the battle."
Ivan Hasib, embedded Syrian reporter
A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighter watches illumination rounds light up Baghuz, Syria, as the last pocket of Islamic State militants is attacked on March 12, 2019

"The second one [counterattack launched by Islamic State] was much stronger since they took advantage of smoke [from artillery blasts], dust and sand over Baghuz."
"Fighting is still continuing. Daesh [Arabic acronym for ISIL] made no progress and were stopped."
"We are still countering the assault until this very moment."
"This could be their final attack."
Officials with the Syrian Democratic Forces coalition, Baghuz, Eastern Syria
The 'final moments' of the Islamic caliphate is upon its holdout fighters in Baghuz, even while shelling continues to thunder on its last small piece of territory. The continuing assaults on the besieged town has prompted a wave of surrenders, with the Syrian Democratic Forces estimating that close to three thousand people had exited the Baghuz area in the past 48 hours, most of them fighters.

Estimated to number in their hundreds now, the final Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant diehard militants, most of them thought to be of foreign origin, managed even yet to launch two counterattacks throughout the day. Such attacks have often occurred during sandstorms which have given them cover, while leaving the U.S.-led coalition aircraft on the ground, unable to give cover to the SDF fighters.

When all else fails the Islamic State terrorists, they invariably turn to their tried-and-true method of wanton killing through suicide truck bombs. Between February 24 and March 9 the SDF had managed to stop 35 car and truck bombs from achieving their mission. And even while battling ferociously to save themselves and their ideological home from total extermination, ISIL put together a propaganda video and posted it overnight Monday.

Filmed in recent weeks from within Baghuz to portray for its supporters that all is well and "Tomorrow, God willing, we will be in paradise and they will be burning in hell", the 15-minute video was meant to instill courage and hope in their followers; to keep the faith. A shorter audio released at the same time claimed its remaining fighters and members, women and children included, were being victimized by a "holocaust".

What irony there, given Islamic State atrocities mounted against vulnerable civilian populations like the Yazidis and Christians. "Brothers in Europe and in the whole world", the audio appealed, "rise and take revenge for your religion", it urged.

According to analysts watching the situation closely, the belief is that the leaders of ISIL have decided to order large numbers of their fighters to surrender -- as in 'paradise can wait' -- for the greater interests of continuing to live so that regrouping will become possible at some future tine. As for the numbers remaining in Baghuz; it was once thought the total there was 2,000.

And then -- over 30,000 fighters and civilians have since exited the last remaining stronghold, a number considerably greater than the supposed two thousand. No one expected such a large number, not the U.S., not the SDF, not the aid agencies operating displacement camps, leading the UN food agency to appeal for added funding on an urgent basis for the al-Hol camp where the bulk of the evacuees end up.

The SDF is holding over 2,000 jihadists, along with thousands more representing their wives and children. In the face of Western governments uncertainty whether to take their citizens back, those same governments prepared to refuse their return and to revoke citizenship then criticize the SDF for handing the jihadis including foreigners, over to Iraq for trial and punishment. Iraq has been dealing with many of those prisoners expeditiously at trial and executing those they find guilty of heinous crimes.

Fighters of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are seen in Deir Ezzor
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) say they do not have the capacity to hold Isil fighters indefinitely Credit: Reuters

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