Hundreds flee US-backed Syria battle for last Daesh holdout

Members of Syrian Democratic Forces stand together near Baghouz

It still holds land in central Syria in a remote desert area otherwise controlled by the government. They separated 15, all with long beards, and took them one by one behind a rock to search them.

On Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 70 civilians had been killed and wounded by air strikes that it said hit a camp for civilians in Baghouz, and that 16 civilians were killed in strikes overnight.

SDF spokesman Bali said at the weekend that up to 600 jihadists could remain inside the pocket, majority foreigners.

'There are mines throughout the sector, ' said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based war monitor.

US President Donald Trump on Monday said the coalition may declare victory over IS in Syria within days.

This frame grab from video posted online January 18, 2019, by supporters of the Islamic State group, purports to show a gun-mounted IS vehicle firing at members of the US -backed Syrian Democratic Forces, in the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, Syria.

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Monday that many civilians remained in Baghouz, compelling the militia to go cautiously.

The latest fighting caused an exodus of around 20,000 civilians from Baghouz and nearby areas, many of them the foreign wives and children of Islamic State militants.

SDF forces have been supported in their push against Islamic State by intense airstrikes from a US-led coalition, according to the observatory.

The SDF made "slow and methodical" progress in the battle near the Iraqi border, according to the USA -led coalition backing it.

During an unannounced visit to Baghdad on Tuesday, acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan met Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi but the possibility of U.S. troops in Iraq deploying into Syria for operations against IS "just did not come up" during their talks, Shanahan told reporters.

Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan on Tuesday made an unannounced visit to Baghdad and met with the Iraqi premier over a continued United States troop presence in Iraq after a pullout from Syria.

The official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said ISIS members will be interrogated by Iraqi security agencies.

Abdul-Mahdi's announcement came a week after the US called on other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens who travelled to Syria to fight with IS and who are now being held by Washington's local partners.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in December he would pull all 2,000 American troops out of Syria, announcing the battle against Islamic State nearly over. However, the official said this is making the fighting more hard as the terrorists are working to hold onto their last stronghold.

Last month, France's Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told French media that a handful of French jihadis had already returned home and more would follow soon after the departure of American troops.

"We think coalition members need to take responsibility for their citizens who are fighters".

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