U.S.-backed forces attack last ISIL stronghold in eastern Syria
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) attacked the last ISIL stronghold in eastern Syria Sunday amid a final push to clear the jihadist group from the war-torn country.
The anti-ISIL military operation in the town of Baghouz in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zour resumed after the deadline for the ISIL militants and their families to leave ended on Sunday.
The head of the SDF press office, Mustafa Bali, said on Twitter earlier on Sunday that "the timeline that we give it for ISIS (ISIL) to surrender themselves is over" and "our forces is ready now to start and finish what is left in ISIS hands."
The SDF declared the last push against ISIL earlier this month but later put it on hold to allow ISIL members to leave.
Thousands of people, including ISIL militants, have left the area while others refuse to do so.
Before the recent offensive started last month, SDF officials estimated that 1,500 civilians and 500 ISIL fighters remained.
In a tweet on March 8, Bali announced that 2,600 ISIL militants and their families had been evacuated from Baghouz on March 6 and 7, but as the evacuation got underway it was not clear Sunday how many fighters and civilians remained in the besieged half-square-mile farmlands under ISIL control in Baghouz.
The Kurdish-led SDF, with the backing of the U.S.-led coalition, has launched a crushing offensive to eliminate ISIL from the eastern Euphrates River region in eastern Syria since September last year.
At its height, ISIL controlled more than 34,000 square miles in Syria and Iraq in 2014, from the Mediterranean coast to south of Baghdad. The U.S.-led coalition has been working for years to oust the group from cities and towns.