US-Backed Syria Force Says ISIS Holding 1,000 Civilians

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
February 17, 2019 Updated: February 17, 2019

AL-OMAR OIL FIELD BASE, Syria—ISIS terrorists are preventing more than 1,000 civilians from leaving a tiny area still held by the terrorist group in a village in eastern Syria, a spokesman for the U.S.-backed Syrian militia fighting the group said on Feb. 17.

“Regrettably, Daesh have closed all the roads,” Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), told The Associated Press, referring to ISIS by its Arabic acronym.

SDF officials have said the terrorists are hiding among civilians in a tented village and using a network of caves and tunnels. ISIS, which once controlled a self-proclaimed state in large parts of Syria and Iraq, is clinging to an area less than a square mile in the village of Baghouz, in eastern Syria.

The terrorists may include high-level commanders and could be holding hostages among those trapped inside.

man selling chicken
A man selling chicken sits in an area recently retaken by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from ISIS terrorists in Hajin, Syria, on Feb. 16, 2019. (Felipe Dana/AP Photo)

Occasional coalition airstrikes and clashes continue inside the village of Baghouz. Artillery rounds were meant to clear landmines for the SDF fighters to advance. SDF commanders say the end of ISIS’s self-declared caliphate is near.

“We will very soon bring good news to the whole world,” Ciya Furat, an SDF commander, said Saturday at a news conference at the al-Omar Oil Field Base, miles away from Baghouz in the Deir el-Zour province.

The capture of the last pocket of territory held by ISIS in either Syria or Iraq would mark the end of a devastating four-year global campaign to end the terrorist group’s so-called caliphate. At the height of their power in 2014, the terrorists controlled nearly a third of both countries.

But experts and U.S. defense officials warn that the group still poses a major threat and could regroup within six months if the pressure is not kept up.

Thousands of ISIS fighters and their families have emerged from the last bastion held by the group in the past few months. The SDF is holding around 1,000 foreign fighters in lockups and camps in northern Syria.

A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces
A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter rides past destroyed homes and vehicles in a village recently retaken from ISIS terrorists in Susah, Syria, on Feb. 16, 2019. (Felipe Dana/AP Photo)

The Kurds want their countries to take them back, and the United States has called on Europeans to repatriate and put them on trial.

Trump repeated that call in a tweet on Saturday.

“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial. The Caliphate is ready to fall,” Trump posted. He suggested the alternative would be that the U.S. would be forced to release them.

“We do so much, and spend so much – Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!” he added.

By Saran El Deeb