WASHINGTON — ISIS fighters in their last land bastion in eastern Syria continued to surrender to U.S.-backed forces on Thursday, astounding Pentagon officials who concede they vastly understated the number of fighters and civilians in the redoubt.
As the ground elements of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition increased pressure on the small square mile of territory still held by ISIS, more than 3,000 ISIS fighters have surrendered in the past 48 hours, officials from U.S. Central Command confirmed Thursday. Since early February, more than 10,000 civilians have been evacuated from the war zone enclave.
The civilians and fighters are leaving Baghouz, a town in the southeast corner of Syria on the Iraqi border. It is the last piece of land held by ISIS, which at one point controlled area in eastern Syria and western Iraq the size of Great Britain.
Musafa Bali, a spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said the final assault on Naghouz would occur once as many civilians as possible are evacuated.
Prior to the launching of the attack on Baghouz in early February, U.S. Central Command estimated there were 1,500 civilians and 500 ISIS fighters in the urban area.
The final assault has been slowed by the civilian exodus as well as suicide counter-attacks by ISIS members, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.
The effort to retake the last corner of Syria started last September. It is the third and final phase of Operation Roundup, which was launched last April.
The rise of ISIS was spawned as the Syrian civil war created chaos and opportunity through the Middle Eastern nation. The civil war was triggered after peaceful protests were held in Syria on March 15, 2011, and were met with brutal pushbacks from President Bashar Assad.