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Fri, 15 Mar 2019 13:18 - Updated Fri, 15 Mar 2019 13:18

'We don't see the enemy': concealed jihadists slow IS defeat

DEIR AL-ZOR - The young Syrian man crossing out of Islamic State’s last enclave in eastern Syria brought confirmation that the fight was still not over despite days of ferocious bombardment by U.S.-backed forces.

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“There are people coming out and others not coming out,” said the bearded man wearing a robe and head scarf, one of hundreds of people who left the enclave at Baghouz on Thursday to surrender to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Asked if there were many people still inside, he said “yes” in the footage obtained by Reuters from the Kurdish TV station Ronahi. “I was injured in my back,” said the man originally from the nearby city of Deir al-Zor.

It has been five weeks since the SDF declared the start of its attack on the enclave, a group of villages surrounded by farmland where IS fighters and followers retreated as their “caliphate” was driven from once vast territories.

While Islamic State’s defeat at Baghouz has appeared a foregone conclusion - U.S. President Donald Trump prematurely declared the group “100 percent” beaten on Feb. 28 - the SDF has yet to deal the final blow.

The campaign has stalled to allow for the evacuation of large numbers of people, many of them wives and children of IS fighters. The SDF has evacuated thousands of people from the enclave, adding to the tens of thousands who have crossed out of the diminishing IS territory in the last few months.

The assault has also been complicated by resistance from hardened jihadists holed up inside seeking a fight to the death.

A big push this week has met with counter attacks involving groups of suicide bombers who had survived intensive artillery bombardments and air strikes by a U.S.-led international coalition,REUTERS.

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