Japanese Syria (CNN)The unmistakable sound of automatic equipment gunfire pierced the early early morning, sometime before 7:00 am. Even though it was not abnormal to wake up to the cacophony of war—be it coalition bombing from airstrikes or gunfire—this was distinct.
For times, I would been touring with fighters from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who launched a last offensive to oust ISIS
from its only remaining enclave in Syria above the weekend.
Given that sunset on Saturday, coalition airstrikes experienced been pounding the final remnants of the jihadi group’s so-named “caliphate.”
Now we ended up holed up in a war-torn setting up just a kilometer from the town SDF fighters had been doing the job to liberate: Baghouz Al-Fawqani.
We scrambled to the rooftop for a greater vantage stage. There was minor to see, save for explosions in the length which appeared to be a mix of airstrikes and shelling from the US, British and French positions toward the town. As we watched, we heard rounds coming in our path. Zing came a single, then one more, then one more.
On this chilly winter season early morning, ISIS ended up taking edge of the mist at daybreak to start a counterattack. We ducked behind a wall as bullets ongoing to fly above our heads. The early morning just before, coalition airstrikes had suppressed any possible assaults. But now, the gunfire appeared to be intensifying.
The soldiers close to us became agitated by the onslaught. One of them obtained on a walkie-talkie for much more facts about the assault. Then a huge blast rocked someplace close by and grey smoke began billowing from the side of our setting up.
Retreating to the building’s stairwell, it transpired to us that we may be in hazard of currently being overrun by ISIS—one of their ways is to encircle in the course of an attack alternatively than come from the front.
We weighed our solutions and resolved it was time to transfer back again. We pulled again about five kilometers to a further dwelling in a safer place to reassess, take in breakfast and drink tea. As we shared a food with the troopers, it was clear that their previously confidence of a brief and uncomplicated struggle was shaken.
Until Monday morning, the operation had appeared to be performing on schedule. The battle’s initially 24 hrs observed tiny resistance from ISIS and buoyed the self confidence of the SDF fighters we traveled with. Commanders experienced instructed us above tea that they might just take the town by Monday or Tuesday.
But the morning’s activities had brought a harsh truth of the matter household: ISIS was not heading to give up effortlessly, and its fighters unquestionably were not likely to be defeated immediately.
Afterwards in the working day, we arrived throughout an assembly level the place men and women fleeing the town are checked, given medical aid and food and drinking water. It truly is below that adult men are separated from gals and questioned to establish any potential ISIS associates or sympathizers.
Most outstanding was the sheer selection of inhabitants escaping Baghouz Al-Fawqani. I counted 21 trucks loaded with individuals destined for refugee camps. A nearby official running the convoy estimated that about 700 men and women have been leaving.
SDF officials had been telling us for days that the total number of men and women in Baghouz Al-Fawqani was only about 1,500 residents, with 500 ISIS fighters—but plainly that range is a great deal greater. SDF spokesman Mustrafa Belli later told me that they experienced underestimated the variety of civilians and that they probably numbered the hundreds.
1 of the fleeing civilians, an older female, explained to me that the town’s inhabitants ended up getting applied as human shields. A person who experienced fled instructed me the overall town had been shelled and minor shelter remained. A further said all those that remained have been resorting to having the grain for their livestock.
When I requested about ISIS, 1 resident described fighters from all above the globe—some appeared to be European even though some others seemed to be Russian and Chechen, as nicely as other people from Central Asia, he claimed.
As I spoke with these exhausted and disoriented townspeople, I considered back again to US President Trump’s remark
that he hoped to announce a victory versus ISIS in Syria, in the coming times.
His statement may possibly have galvanized SDF commanders as their previous offensive began. But the reality is that this is not an operation that operates on a timetable. It will choose as lengthy as necessary—maybe even weeks.
And as fighting intensifies and troopers force forward, no person on the ground is making predictions any more.
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