The evacuation of people from ISIS-held areas of eastern Syria has been made more complicated over the past weeks by the group's use of civilians as human shields.
In an attempt to protect the lives of civilians living in ISIS’ last enclave, Baghouz in Syria’s eastern Deir ez-Zour Province, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) halted their operations in order to allow people to evacuate. The two-week halt, which will end soon, has allowed hundreds of people, mostly women and children, to escape ISIS’ grip.
Soon after their evacuation, the families of ISIS members were separated from the civilian population and taken for further questioning.
Due to a deal struck between Iraq and the SDF, Iraqi ISIS prisoners and families are to be handed over to the government, which will then take the necessary legal actions.
As a result, the Governor of the Iraqi border city of al-Qaim stated that at least ten trucks transporting Iraqi ISIS militants and their families were handed over to the Iraqi army in the past week.
According to the SDF’s spokesperson, Mustafa Bali, the evacuation deal was struck with the militant group in exchange for the release of some hostages and prisoners kept by ISIS.
However, now that the evacuation is complete, the SDF will resume their operations to fight ISIS militants remaining in an area no larger than half a square kilometre.
According to analysts and observers the SDF is and will continue to face many obstacles in their attempts to fully capture Baghouz due to the strong pushback from the militant group, which has been using landmines, suicide bombings, VBIEDs and IEDs to stall the advance of the SDF.
Furthermore, the SDF has stated that despite the evacuation deal, ISIS is continuing to use human shields to prevent shelling and airstrikes.
With ISIS militants still able to use the tunnels that they have dug over the past few years, security officials on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border say that even though they will soon be militarily defeated in Syria, ISIS sleeper cells will continue to pose a threat to the two countries unless they are dealt with.