Kurdish forces fight to liberate last village under ISIS control
CTVNews.ca Staff with a report from London Bureau Chief Paul Workman
Published Thursday, February 14, 2019 10:00PM EST
SYRIA – The vast control that the Islamic State once held in Syria is almost completely gone as Kurdish-led forces push to liberate the last remaining village from ISIS grip.
Kurdish officials in Syria told CTV News’ Paul Workman that it’s only a matter of days before ISIS’ final holdout in Baghouz is overturned by pro-democratic forces.
Reclaiming the village would mark a turning point in the bloody, four-year battle to wipe out ISIS’ so-called “caliphate” from Syria. At one point, the militant group controlled nearly one-third of the country.
“Before, we said they controlled a few square kilometres of territory,” one Kurdish official said. “Now it’s only a few hundred square metres.”
Already, ISIS fighters have begun surrendering en masse, with one report suggesting that up to 200 fighters put down their guns on Wednesday night. Among them are many foreign fighters who travelled to Syria to join the extremist group.
It’s unclear what will happen to those foreign fighters and their families. Kurdish officials say they have reached out to several countries asking to repatriate them.
The Canadian government has not indicated any plans to potentially repatriate ISIS fighters. A senior intelligence officer with the Kurdish forces told CTV News that there seemed to be little, if any, interest from Canada to do so.
Last week, Global Affairs Canada said it had been in touch with Kurdish authorities “in order to verify the whereabouts of some Canadian citizens.” The agency denied reports of an agreement to repatriate Canadians from Syria, calling such reports “false.”
As ISIS loses its territory, hundreds of wives and children of ISIS fighters have come out of hiding. Many of them fled Baghouz and walked through the desert until they reached Kurdish forces. They were then checked for weapons and are now being held in large holding camps.
The wife of an ISIS fighter who travelled to Syria from Ukraine told CTV News that there was no food by the time she left the battle-scarred enclave. She added that many children were wounded in airstrikes.
Another woman whose husband fought for ISIS said some people carried suitcases during the long march through the desert.
“We walked for three hours and it was very hard,” she said.
Last week, CNN interviewed two women on camera who identified themselves as Canadians from Toronto and Alberta. The two women said they travelled to Syria with their husbands, who joined ISIS. Global Affairs Canada confirmed that it was aware of the report.
A 19-year-old British woman told The Times newspaper that she ran away to join ISIS four years ago. Now nine months pregnant, she says she’s worried about her baby’s health and wants to move back home.
"In the end, I just could not endure anymore," she said.
Britain said Thursday it has no plans to help her.
Even if ISIS loses its foothold in Syria, the group will not be completely powerless, according to a coalition official.
"While ISIS is on the verge of collapse, and the end of the physical caliphate is at hand it does not signal the end of this campaign," said U.K. Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika. "We will pursue them until that threat is eliminated.”
Kurdish fighters say they will issue a declaration once the final area controlled by ISIS has been captured.
With files from The Associated Press