Jihadist fighters defending the last dreg of the Islamic State group’s “caliphate” Saturday were holed up in half a square kilometre of a village in eastern Syria.
President Donald Trump had announced that the fall of the IS proto-state would be declared Saturday, but a Syrian commander said his US-backed forces slowed down their advance to protect civilians.
The jihadists declared a “caliphate” in large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, but have since lost all but a tiny patch of territory in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.
Hundreds of metres (yards) from the front line in the village of Baghouz, a reporter heard artillery fire and two air strikes on the jihadist holdout.
Huge craters had been blown out of the ground, and the road was lined with destroyed buildings and the skeletons of burnt-out cars.
“IS is besieged in a neighbourhood that is estimated to be 700 metres long and 700 metres wide,” said Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander Jia Furat.
“Baghouz is within our firing range but we are moving cautiously considering there are civilians still trapped there as human shields,” said Furat, the overall commander for the operation.
“In a very short time, not longer than a few days, we will officially announce the end of IS’s existence,” he told reporters at a nearby SDF base.