On brink of Syria defeat, ISIS unleashes car bombs

ISIS launched car bombs and suicide attackers against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) assaulting Baghouz, in a last-ditch effort to stave off defeat in its final patch of territory, fighters from the US-backed force said on Sunday.

Capturing the village in eastern Syria will be a milestone in international efforts to roll back the extremists, whose self-styled “caliphate” covered roughly one-third of Syria and Iraq at its height in 2014.

But it is universally accepted that the group, which has been in territorial retreat since then and suffered its major defeats in 2017, will remain a security threat as an insurgent force with sleeper cells and some desolate pockets of territory.

The SDF had said it expected a “decisive battle” on Sunday after advancing gradually for 18 hours to avoid land mines sown by ISIS, whose fighters are also using underground tunnels to stage ambushes and then disappear.

By midday, however, there was no sign of the battle being over, and a spokesman for the US-led international coalition supporting the SDF said the pace of the advance had ebbed.

“ISIS fighters have been using suicide vests and car bombs to slow down the SDF offensive and hide from Coalition strikes in the area of Baghuz,” Col. Sean Ryan told Reuters.

“They still hold civilians and are lacing the tunnels with IEDs as well,” he said, referring to improvised explosive devices.

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