The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Tuesday 38 ISIS fighters were killed in a US-backed offensive against the extremists’ only remaining enclave in eastern Syria, after the area was pounded in a bombardment overnight.
Calm returned to Baghouz with no sign of fighting on Tuesday morning after Reuters TV footage showed the fierce bombardment, during which the enclave was targeted with rockets and fires raged inside.
The enclave is the last shred of territory held by the extremists who have been driven from territory in Iraq and Syria over the past four years by an array of enemies, including a US-led international coalition.
The SDF has been laying siege to Baghouz for weeks, but repeatedly postponed its final assault to allow the evacuation of thousands of civilians, many of them wives and children of ISIS militants. It finally resumed the attack on Sunday, backed by coalition air strikes.
Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, said the SDF command had confirmed 38 ISIS fighters had been killed.
Three SDF fighters were killed and 10 wounded, he wrote on Twitter. The extremists had fired two rockets, he added, an indication of continued ISIS resistance.
US-led coalition jets mounted 20 air raids that had destroyed ISIS military vehicles, defensive fortifications, two ammunition stores and a command post.
Washington does not believe any senior ISIS leaders are in Baghouz, assessing they have gone elsewhere as part of the group’s shift towards an insurgency, a US defense official has said.
The group still operates in remote territory elsewhere and it is widely assessed that it will continue to represent a potent security threat.
The bulk of the people evacuated from the diminishing ISIS territory have been transported to a camp for internally displaced people in al-Hol, in northeastern Syria, where the United Nations says conditions are “extremely dire”.
The camp, designed to accommodate 20,000 people, is now sheltering more than 66,000, the UN said.
Obdurate support voiced by many evacuees for ISIS, particularly among foreigners, has posed a complex security, legal and moral challenge.
Those issues were underscored on Friday with the death of the newborn son of Shamima Begum, a British woman who left to join ISIS when she was a schoolgirl.