Civilians Evacuated From Last ISIS Holdout in Syria

February 20, 2019 Updated: February 20, 2019

BAGHOUZ, Syria—A convoy of trucks carrying hundreds of civilians, including men, women, and children, left the last enclave held by ISIS militants in eastern Syria on Feb. 20, signaling a possible end to a standoff that has lasted for more than a week.

An Associated Press team in Baghouz, a village near the Iraqi border where the ISIS group is making its final stand, counted at least 17 trucks that emerged through a humanitarian corridor used in past weeks to evacuate people from the militants’ last patch of territory along the Euphrates River.

U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters watch as an airstrike hits territory still held by Islamic State militants
U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters watch as an airstrike hits territory still held by ISIS militants in the desert outside Baghouz, Syria, on Feb. 19, 2019. (Felipe Dana/AP Photo)

Women, children, and men, some with checkered headscarves, or keffiyehs, could be seen through a flap opening on the flatbed trucks. One man carried a crutch; the women were engulfed in conservative black garments covering their faces known as niqabs.

Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, the U.S.-backed militia spearheading the fight against ISIS in Syria, confirmed the trucks were carrying civilians out of the enclave.

It was not immediately clear if ISIS militants were also on board the trucks. Around 300 militants are believed to be holed up in the enclave, along with several hundred civilians. On Tuesday, Bali said a military operation aimed at ousting the extremists from the area will begin if they don’t surrender, adding that such an operation would take place after separating or evacuating the civilians from the militants.

An SDF commander, Zana Amedi, said most of the militants remaining inside the enclave are seriously wounded or sick.

The ISIS group has been reduced from its self-proclaimed “caliphate” that once spread across much of Syria and Iraq at its height in 2014 to a speck of land on the countries’ shared border.

A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter stands guard as Islamic State group's fighters and their families leave IS's last holdout of Baghouz
A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter stands guard as ISIS group’s fighters and their families leave ISIS’s last holdout of Baghouz in Syria’s northern Deir Ezzor province on Feb. 20, 2019. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

The SDF has been encircling the remaining ISIS-held territory for days, waiting to declare the territorial defeat of the extremist group.

Nearly 20,000 civilians had left the shrinking area in recent weeks before the evacuation halted last week when the militants closed all the roads out of the tiny area.

By Sarah El Deeb