'IS' Families Leave as Militants Make Last Stand in Syria

IS families defiant, but defeated in Syria

Syrian regime and IS fighters clash in eastern desert

Votel, Commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM) speaks during the Change of Command U.S. Naval Forces Central Command 5th Fleet Combined Maritime Forces ceremony at the U.S. Naval Base in Bahrain, May 6, 2018.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the group spearheading the fight against IS in Syria, has been applying a combination of military force to put pressure on the militants who refuse to surrender, followed by pauses to allow for the evacuation of civilians. The SDF has besieged Baghouz since September, but the fight has been slowed because of the enormous number of civilians who have surfaced in the tiny shred of territory on the banks of the Euphrates River in eastern Syria - well over 10,000 have filtered out over the past two weeks.

Smoke billows after shelling on ISIL's last holdout in Baghouz, March 4, 2019.

US -backed forces and Western diplomats said this week they were confounded by the sheer number of fighters and families trudging out of Baghouz, a hamlet in Deir Ezzor province that has been surrounded for weeks and is believed to encompass less than a square mile of Islamic State-held territory.

Among the 3,500 people who poured out of Baghouz on Tuesday following intense bombardment by the SDF and its global allies, 500 were suspected fighters turning themselves in, the SDF said.

Syrian military air strikes against jihadist fighters further west, in the country's central desert, were a reminder of the constant warnings by both Arab and Western officials that Islamic State will continue to pose a serious security threat.

Islamic State overran the Yazidi faith's heartland of Sinjar in northern Iraq in 2014, forcing young women into servitude as "wives" for its fighters and massacring men and older women. Hundreds of others jihadists surrendered, though it was not yet clear how many, the commander added.

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As militant fighters and civilians have surrendered themselves, they have continued to chant fealty to the Islamic State, according to videos taken inside SDF-held areas, and told reporters on the scene that the so-called caliphate is not defeated despite its loss of territory.

He said that the ISIS fighters and their families leaving the group's last pocket of territory were "unrepentant, unbroken and radicalised".

On Wednesday, hundreds of evacuees walked through the dusty desert plateau to get on trucks to carry them to displaced persons camps miles away.

The International Rescue Committee reported that at least 12,000 women and children had been transported to the al-Hol camp since Wednesday. Of the 90 people who have died reaching the camp since December, two-thirds were babies or infants, it said.

Four Shi'ite Muslim children abducted from the Iraqi city of Tel Afar four years ago were also freed and the SDF would try to reunite them with their parents said Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the militia.

An woman dressed from head to toe in black sat slumped on a wheelchair, with other women and children wrapped in thick jackets scattered on blankets at her feet.

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