BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – U.S.-backed forces stated that they had captured Islamic State’s final shred of territory in japanese Syria at Baghouz on Saturday, ending the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate after years of combating.
FILE PHOTO: Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stand collectively within the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria, March 20, 2019. Image taken March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Mentioned/File Picture
“Baghouz has been liberated. The navy victory in opposition to Daesh has been achieved,” Mustafa Bali, a Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesman, wrote on Twitter, declaring the “complete elimination of (the) so-called caliphate”.
Nonetheless, a Reuters journalist at Baghouz stated there have been nonetheless some sounds of taking pictures and mortar fireplace.
The ultimate battle lasted weeks as enormous numbers of civilians poured out, and for a lot of Kurdish fighters within the SDF, victory was sweeter because it coincided with their “Now Ruz” new yr.
Although the defeat of Islamic State in Baghouz ends the group’s grip over the jihadist quasi-state straddling Syria and Iraq that it declared in 2014, it stays a menace.
A few of its fighters nonetheless maintain out in Syria’s distant central desert and in Iraqi cities they’ve slipped into the shadows, staging sudden shootings or kidnappings and awaiting an opportunity to rise once more.
The USA believes the group’s chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is in Iraq. He stood on the pulpit of the good medieval mosque in Mosul in 2014 to declare himself caliph, sovereign over all Muslims.
Additional afield, jihadists in Afghanistan, Nigeria and elsewhere have proven no signal of recanting their allegiance to Islamic State, and intelligence companies say its devotees within the West would possibly plot new assaults.
Nonetheless, the autumn of Baghouz is a giant milestone in a struggle in opposition to the jihadist group waged by quite a few native and world forces – a few of them sworn enemies – over greater than 4 years.
It additionally marks a giant second in Syria’s eight-year struggle, wiping out the territory of one of many important contestants, with the remainder cut up between President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey-backed rebels and the Kurdish-led SDF.
Assad and his Iranian allies have sworn to recapture all Syria, and Turkey has threatened to drive out the SDF, which it sees as a terrorist group, by power. The continued presence of U.S. troops in northeast Syria would possibly avert this.
Islamic State originated as an al Qaeda faction in Iraq, nevertheless it took benefit of Syria’s civil struggle to grab land there and cut up from the worldwide jihadist group.
In 2014, it immediately grabbed Iraq’s Mosul, one of many area’s nice historic cities, in addition to Syria’s Raqqa, and swathes of land both sides of the border.
It declared an finish to trendy nations and known as on supporters to go away their houses and be part of the jihadist utopia it claimed to be erecting, trumpeting its foreign money, flag, passports and navy parades.
Oil manufacturing, extortion and stolen antiquities financed its agenda, which included slaughtering some minorities, public slave auctions of captured girls, grotesque punishments for minor crimes and the choreographed killing of hostages.
These excesses introduced an array of forces in opposition to it, forcing it from Mosul and Raqqa in a yr of heavy defeats in 2017 and driving it, ultimately, down the Euphrates to Baghouz.
Over the previous two months some 60,000 folks poured out of that dwindling enclave, fleeing SDF bombardment and a scarcity of meals so extreme that some stated they had been diminished to cooking grass.
Intense air strikes all through the marketing campaign have leveled total districts and rights teams have stated they killed many civilians, allegations the coalition has typically disputed.
A mass grave the SDF found final month confirmed there have been different risks within the enclave, although it has launched no particulars on the identities of the victims or how they died.
Civilians made up greater than half the folks leaving Baghouz, the SDF stated, together with Islamic State victims similar to girls from the Iraqi Yazidi sect whom the jihadists had sexually enslaved.
Hundreds of the group’s unbending supporters additionally deserted the enclave whereas nonetheless vowing their allegiance to a ruined caliphate and displaying no regret for its victims.
At displacement camps in northeast Syria the place they had been despatched by the SDF, the hardliners, together with many overseas girls who got here to Syria and Iraq to marry jihadists, needed to be avoided different, typically traumatized, residents.
Their destiny has befuddled overseas governments, who see them as a safety menace and are loath to accede to SDF entreaties to take them again dwelling.
Because the combating progressed, the convoys of vehicles from Baghouz began to incorporate tons of, after which 1000’s, of surrendering jihadist fighters, many hobbling from their wounds.
The SDF stated it captured tons of extra in latest weeks who tried to slide via its cordon and escape into Iraq or throughout the Euphrates and into the Syrian desert.
On the finish, they had been besieged in a tiny camp filled with rusting automobiles and makeshift shelters, pinned in opposition to the Euphrates and neglected by hills held by the SDF.
Islamic State launched video from inside that squalid, shell-pounded enclave, displaying its final fighters nonetheless taking pictures on the SDF as smoke billowed overhead.
It was an try to form the narrative of its defeat, portraying it as a heroic final stand in opposition to overwhelming odds and a name to arms for future jihadists.
However in Baghouz in latest weeks lengthy strains of abject, surrendering fighters sat or squatted in a desolate panorama, their dream of world domination in tatters.
Reporting by Rodi Mentioned in Deir al-Zor province and a Reuters journalist in Baghouz; Writing by Angus McDowall/Tom Perry; Modifying by Robert Birsel and Alexander Smith