At least 16 civilians, including seven children, have been killed in air strikes launched with a US-backed coalition fighting to drive the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also referred to as ISIS) band fighters by their very last enclave in eastern Syriaand also a war monitor has said.
Coalition fighter jets fired missiles in service of their Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Baghouz, a village at Deir Az Zor state, as part of a ferocious battle to seize the last ISIL pocket from the country.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said substantial clashes were ongoing on Tuesday after hundreds fled the conflict zone overnight.
There, some 600 ISIL fighters stay in a 4sq km region near the Iraqi border around the northwestern banks of the Euphrates River.
The SDF, backed by a US-led coalition, announced a final push to retake Baghouz overdue on Saturday. Since that time, some army advances are made, however, ISIL snipers and landmines have slowed the ground forces down.
Coalition spokesperson Sean Ryan said the US-backed forces have been facing a fierce fightback.
“The advancement is slow and methodical as the enemy is fully entrenched and ISIL fighters continue to run counterattacks,” he explained.
“The coalition continues to strike at ISIL goals whenever available.”
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, coverage from Turkey’s Gaziantep, stated the air strikes that killed civilians happened on Monday, in the early hours of Tuesday morning on the outskirts of their village.
“These air strikes are designed to stop ISIL fighters from penetrating the area,” Khan explained.
While about 1,500 civilians had fled the enclave on Monday, hundreds stay trapped inside.
Based on Khan, there’s been a pause in the fighting.
“We are hearing the SDF forces and ISIL fighters are still negotiating a humanitarian corridor to permit civilians trapped into the region to emerge safely,” he said.
“However, that has not happened yet. It is clearly in the interest of ISIL fighters to keep civilians within Baghouz village… In effect, they’re being held hostage,” he further added.
The sound of explosions surrendered dozens of kilometres off and columns of dark gray smoke could be observed from the SDF territory.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Allied Observatory for Individual Rights, a UK-based warfare monitor, said heavy clashes have been”ongoing to pressure ISIL into surrendering”.
The Observatory said 12 SDF guys and 19 ISIL fighters were killed in the fighting on Monday.
Bali reported the SDF reacted after the ISIL established a counterattack earlier in the day. He said that there were”dozens of SDF hostages” held from the ISIL.
US President Donald Trump stated on Monday the coalition may declare victory over ISIL from the area in the forthcoming days.
“Our brave warriors have liberated virtually 100 percentage of ISIL [territory] at Iraq and Syria… soon it will be announced, soon, possibly over the next week, perhaps less, but it will be declared we have 100 percent,” he told a rally in the US town of El Paso.
In December, Trump had announced a full withdrawal of US troops out of Syria, saying ISIL had been”beaten”.
Backed by coalition air attacks, the SDF alliance has been fighting to eliminate ISIL from Deir Az Zor since September.
The armed group overran large parts of Syria and Arabian Iraq in 2014, however a set of military offensives have decreased that land to just Baghouz.
Since December, tens of thousands of individuals, mostly women and children linked to ISIL boxers, have fled the diminishing ISIL region into the SDF territory.
The US-backed forces have screened the newest arrivals, weeding out potential fighters such as coughing.
On Monday, dozens of coalition and SDF fighters were stationed at a screening point for new arrivals in the ISIL areas.
Coalition forces stood over about 20 men who had been crouching on the ground.
Two French girls told the AFP news service that they paid smugglers to take them out of the battered ISIL-held holdout of Baghouz, but Iraqi fighters had prevented other foreigners from departing.
“We have nothing to eat, only Iraqis have meals,” among those women stated.
“They’re permitted to go outside while we’re locked indoors… I only hope to keep my kids living because my husband died in an air strike,” she said.
Once the”caliphate” is announced over, the battle will continue to eliminate ISIL sleeper cells, the SDF and their allies have said.
“Following Baghouz, clearing operations might need to take place too,” Ryan explained.
ISIL still keeps a presence in Syria’s vast Badia desert and has claimed a series of fatal attacks by bronchial tissues from the SDF-held places.