Thousands of Syrians evacuated from Islamic State’s last redoubt

Thousands of Syrian women and children evacuated from Islamic State’s last redoubt
2 min read
22 February, 2019
More than 40 trucks carrying men, women and children left the Islamic State group's last holdout of Baghouz in Syria's northern Deir Az-Zour province.
Millions of Syrians have been displaced [Getty]

US-backed fighters trucked out civilians from the last speck of the Islamic State group's dying "caliphate" in Syria on Friday, eager to press on with the battle to crush the extremists. 

More than four years after IS overran large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq, and declared a "caliphate", they have lost all of it but a tiny patch in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.

Around 40 trucks carrying men, women and children left the enclave on Friday, AFP correspondents at a position of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces outside the village reported.

SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin said more than 2,000 people were estimated to still be inside the pocket, and more trucks were expected to bring them out.

Earlier on Friday, SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali said he hoped civilian evacuations could be completed by Saturday.

The SDF evacuated 3,000 people on Wednesday - mostly women and children - but trucks left near empty on Thursday. Bali said that screening had determined that most of those evacuated on Wednesday were foreigners.

"The majority are Iraqi and from countries of the former Soviet Union, but there are also Europeans," he said.

David Eubank, the leader of the Free Burma Rangers volunteer aid group, said they included "many French women", as well as others from Australia, Austria, Germany and Russia, and one woman from Britain.

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based watchdog, urged the SDF and the US-led coalition supporting it to make protecting civilians a priority.

"Witnesses described harrowing conditions in the last months, with lack of food and aid forcing them to eat grass and weeds to survive," it said.

Read also: US military to keep around 200 troops in Syria after pullout

Beyond Baghouz, IS retains a presence in the vast Syrian desert and sleeper cells elsewhere, and continues to claim deadly attacks in SDF-held territory.

On Thursday, they detonated a car bomb that killed 20 people near the Omar oil field, the main base for the SDF operation in Baghouz.

The battle for the village is now the only live front in Syria's war, which has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since 2011.