UPDATED 7:34 AM PT – Tuesday, February 12, 2019
As the fighting against the Islamic State’s last enclave in Syria continues, forces there are saying their biggest challenge is trapped civilians.
A leader of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces made the statement Tuesday as the group advances on the last of the militant’s territory in Syria. However, the official said this is making the fighting more difficult as the terrorists are working to hold onto their last stronghold.
Additionally, he said those remaining in the province are professional terrorists from countries all over the world, who have worked with groups like Al Qaeda.
Over 20,000 civilians have fled in the past 10 days, but the Syrian Democratic Forces said more could still be trapped.
“The presence of civilians remain the main challenge that face our forces — we have to isolate civilians from the clash points,” explained Mustafa Bali, head of the Syrian Democratic Forces media office. “If we managed successfully to isolate civilians, we are talking about few days to finish the battle, but if terrorists continued to use civilians as human shields, it might take more than just a few days.”
According to Kurdish forces, there are between 400 and 600 ISIS militants still in the stronghold, which they plan to defeat in the coming days.