Fierce Fighting in Syria as U.S.-backed Forces Advance on ISIS Fighters

The U.S.-backed fighters say ISIS militants are mostly hiding underground, in tunnels

File photo: SDF fighters near the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria, March 1, 2019.
Rodi Said/Reuters

Columns of black smoke billowed Sunday from the last small piece of territory held by Islamic State militants as U.S. backed fighters pounded the area with artillery fire and occasional airstrikes shook the ground.

Commanders of the Kurdish-led fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces said fierce clashes were taking place as they advance toward the last speck of land controlled by the Islamic State group.

Fires still smoldered from the area and ammunition exploded time and again, a day after an airstrike hit a building, setting off a huge blast.

“It must be a main weapons depot,” said Sefqan, a commander using only his nom de guerre.

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The U.S.-backed forces resumed an offensive to recapture the tiny area in the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria on Friday night, after a two-week pause to allow for the evacuation of civilians from the area. Once the sliver of land is taken, it would mark the end of a devastating four-year campaign to end ISIS’ hold on territory in Syria and Iraq and its self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate that once straddled vast territory across both countries.

A few hundred IS militants, many of them believed to be foreign fighters, remain holed up inside Baghouz, with an unknown number of civilians.

Machine guns could be heard echoing across the territory. Associated Press journalists in Baghouz saw black smoke from an apparent strike on a barrel of fuel. Gunfire followed another strike on the edge of the camp. Burned vehicles could be seen, abandoned in farmland beyond the village. Through binoculars, ISIS fighters could be seen walking around.

Overnight, machine gun tracers could be seen in the skies over Baghouz and aircraft circled overhead.

“The night for us and the morning for them,” said Abu Ghadab, another commander of the SDF. The militants usually attack during the day as they don’t have night vision goggles while the SDF advances at night, he explained.

The U.S.-backed fighters say ISIS militants are mostly hiding underground, in tunnels.