Islamic State militants and their relatives surrendered to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) by the hundreds on Thursday as the jihadists lost ground to a U.S.-backed assault aimed seizing the last shred of ISIS territory, the SDF said.
Many of the men were limping as they crossed out of the enclave at Baghouz along a dirt path over a rocky hill, accompanied by weeping children and fully veiled women, dragging suitcases and backpacks behind them, a Reuters journalist said.
SDF fighters said many of them were foreign militants.
ISIS insurgents have been mounting a desperate last-stand defense of the enclave at Baghouz, the last patch of Islamic State territory that once spanned a third of Iraq and Syria and which has been besieged by the SDF for weeks.
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The jihadists had sought to counterattack three times in two days, the SDF said, deploying more than 20 suicide bombers.
The SDF said in a statement that its fighters had made progress into the remaining ISIS-held part of the enclave in eastern Syrian near the Iraqi border. It said 15 ISIS members had been killed on Thursday morning after they tried to attack SDF troops.
“Our fighters thwarted all of the terrorist organization's attempts to achieve any progress,” the statement read.
The enclave was being pounded with artillery fire as war planes flew overhead on Thursday. The SDF said it had confirmed 112 ISIS fighters had been killed since it resumed the assault to capture Baghouz earlier this week.
The SDF said earlier this week the battle for Baghouz - a swath of hamlets and farmland - was as good as over.
No ISIS leaders are believed to be in Baghouz, according to a U.S. defense official. U.S. government experts strongly believe ISIS Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is alive and possibly hiding in Iraq.
The group is still assessed to remain a potent security threat operating in remote territory in both Syria and Iraq.
ISIS redrew the map of the Middle East in 2014 when it declared its ultra-radical Sunni Islamist “caliphate”.