US-backed fighters trucked out civilians from the last speck of the Islamic State group’s dying ‘caliphate’ in Syria on Friday, eager to press on with the dragging battle to crush the jihadists.
More than four years after IS overran large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq, and declared a ‘caliphate’, they have lost all of it but a tiny patch in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.
Almost 30 trucks carrying men, women and children left the enclave on Friday, AFP correspondents at a position of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces outside the village reported.
Most were women and children, their clothes caked in dust, but the passengers also included men with their faces wrapped in chequered scarves.
Women clung to the railings of the trucks, while the hair of younger girls flew in the wind, as they left enclave in the second such large-scale evacuation in three days.
Earlier on Friday, SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali said he hoped civilian evacuations could be completed by Saturday.
Fellow SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin said once the evacuations had ended, his forces would expel the last jihadists from the less than half a square kilometre they still hold.
‘When the civilians leave, we will see how many civilians and IS fighters remain inside and what they want to do,’ he said.
‘They will be faced with a choice: war or surrender.’
The SDF evacuated 3,000 people from the IS pocket on Wednesday - mostly women and children - but trucks left near empty on Thursday.
Bali said that screening had determined that most of those evacuated on Wednesday were foreigners.
‘The majority are Iraqi and from countries of the former Soviet Union, but there are also Europeans among them,’ he said.
David Eubank, the leader of the Free Burma Rangers volunteer aid group, said the women and children trucked out were ‘very hungry and dirty’.
White House said on Thursday the US military will keep around 200 troops in Syria after the withdrawal.
‘A small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time,’ White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
At the height of its rule, IS imposed its brutal ideology on an area roughly the size of the United Kingdom, attracting thousands of supporters from abroad.
But some of those foreigners have been killed, while the SDF holds hundreds more.
Syria’s Kurds have long requested that their home countries take them back, but foreign governments have been reluctant.
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