ISIS launched two counter-attacks on U.S.-backed fighters besieging their final shred of territory in eastern Syria on Wednesday but were beaten back without any progress, the Syrian Democratic Forces said.
The jihadists, waging a last-ditch battle in Baghouz, a collection of hamlets and farmland near the Iraqi border, dispatched suicide bombers against SDF fighters, who thwarted the attacks, the U.S.-backed force said.
ISIS launched the second counter-attack in the afternoon, "(taking) advantage of smoke and dust over Baghouz", the SDF media office said. "Fighting is still continuing. (Islamic State) made no progress so far and were stopped."
Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, said the heavy clashes led to the death of 38 militants including eight suicide bombers while four SDF fighters were killed.
There were advances on some points, Bali said.
Black smoke mushroomed high over Baghouz as the sounds of gunfire, explosions
In parts of Baghouz already under SDF control, dirt roads were littered with the scorched remains of cars, trucks
ISIS's black flag could still be seen painted on walls, while others had been emblazoned with freshly daubed SDF slogans and the words "Down with Daesh [ISIS]", an Arabic acronym for the jihadists.
Subsequently, IS was steadily beaten back by a range of enemies including the U.S.-led international coalition, suffering its major defeats in 2017 when it lost the Iraqi city of Mosul and its Syrian headquarters at Raqqa.
No ISIS leaders are believed to be in Baghouz, according to a U.S. defense official. U.S. government experts strongly believe Baghdadi is alive and possibly hiding in Iraq.
The group is still assessed to remain a potent security threat operating in
Bali said SDF forces had bombarded Baghouz heavily overnight before engaging in direct clashes with IS fighters in the pre-dawn hours.
Live footage broadcast by Kurdish Ronahi TV showed a series of large blasts lighting up the night sky over Baghouz.
"There were suicide vest attacks by a group of bombers who tried to blow themselves up amidst our forces. Our forces targeted and killed them before they reached our positions," Bali said.
The SDF has laid siege to Baghouz for weeks but had repeatedly postponed its final assault to allow thousands of civilians, many of them wives and children of ISIS fighters, to leave. It resumed the attack on Sunday.
The U.S. led aerial coalition campaign to end the militants' last territorial enclave has exacted a heavy human toll with hundreds of casualties among civilians from intense aerial bombardment that has razed many villages to the ground, former residents and aid workers say.
Around 3,000 ISIS fighters and their families surrendered to SDF forces in 24 hours, Bali said overnight. Three women and four children belonging to the Yazidi sect, a minority group who were kidnapped and enslaved by ISIS in 2014, were also freed, he said.
ISIS put out a new propaganda video overnight Monday filmed in recent weeks inside Baghouz, maintaining its claim to leadership of all Muslims and calling on its supporters to keep the faith.
"Tomorrow, God willing, we will be in paradise and they will be burning in hell," one of the men interviewed in the video said.
Though ISIS is on the verge of losing its last piece of territory, Syria remains carved up among other parties to its multi-sided conflict: President Bashar al-Assad's government, the Kurdish-led SDF, and anti-government rebels.
The war has escalated in recent weeks with the Assad government stepping up
Overnight, government forces rained incendiary bombs on the area, where a full-scale offensive was averted in September by an agreement brokered by Assad's Russian allies and Turkey, which backs his opponents and has
Russian warplanes struck for the first time in months the center of Idlib city, including a hospital and a prison on the outskirts from which dozens of inmates fled,
The Russian defense ministry said they targeted a weapons store by Tahrir