REUTERS, 03rd MARCH, 2019 - Islamic State launched suicide car bombs against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) assaulting Baghouz, in a last-ditch effort to stave off defeat in its final patch of territory, fighters from the U.S.-backed force said on Sunday.
Capturing the village in eastern Syria will be a milestone in international efforts to roll back the jihadists, whose self-styled “caliphate” covered rougone-thirdhird of Syria and Iraq at its height in 2014. But it is universally accepted that the group, which has been in territorial retreat since then and suffered its major defeats in 2017, will remain a security threat as an insurgent force with sleeper cells and some desolate pockets
The SDF had said it expected a “decisive battle” on Sunday after advancing gradually for 18 hours to avoid land mines sown by Islamic State (IS), whose fighters are also using underground tunnels to stage ambushes and then disappear.
By midday, however, there was no sign of the battle being over. The SDF has previously estimated several hundred IS insurgents to be inside Baghouz, mostly foreigners, and the U.S.-led international coalition supporting the SDF has described them as the “most hardened” militants. From a position about 3 km (2 miles) from the front line on Sunday afternoon, warplanes and the pounding of artillery could be heard overhead as plumes of smoke rose over Baghouz.