US-backed Syrian forces said Sunday that thousands of people could still be inside the last ISIS stronghold in Baghouz, as they tried to flush out die-hard jihadists with airstrikes and shelling.
Tens of thousands of women, children and men have poured out of a small pocket in the Syrian village near the Iraqi border in recent weeks – and they still keep coming.
The huge numbers have created challenges for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and slowed down their offensive aimed at delivering a final blow to the jihadists’ once-sprawling proto-state.
At an SDF position inside Baghouz on Sunday, an AFP correspondent saw white smoke rising above the ISIS redoubt amid the deafening sound of airstrikes and shelling.
A large fire ravaged the makeshift encampment where holdout jihadists are making their last stand.
The Kurdish-led force, backed by US-led coalition warplanes, has rained fire on the jihadists for a week, forcing thousands of fighters and their relatives to surrender.
But SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel told a news conference Sunday that according to the latest group that abandoned the redoubt, “an estimated 5,000 people” are still holed up inside.
However, he cautioned that the SDF has not been able to verify that figure.
Those fleeing the pocket have previously reported widely inconsistent figures on the number of people still inside, ranging from thousands to a few hundred.
– with reporting by Agence France-Presse