It once controlled one-third of Syria and Iraq, but Daesh is now reduced to a village called Baghouz in eastern Syria. Is this the end of the armed group?

Daesh members walk in the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria on March 10 2019.
Daesh members walk in the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria on March 10 2019. (Rodi Said / Reuters)

After years of intense fighting between Daesh and US-backed, YPG-led SDF, the self-proclaimed caliphate is fighting perhaps its last battle in a distant Syrian village called Baghouz.

Spread over a territory measuring just half a square kilometre, Baghouz is located on the banks of the Euphrates River, close to the Syria-Iraq border.   

Not too long ago between 2014-2016, Daesh was ruling more than 11 million people, controlling large swathes of territory from northeastern Syria to northern and western Iraq, including highly populated cities like Mosul and Raqqa. But the US-backed SDF militants and other foreign and local forces have contributed to what seems to be the final defeat of the terror group. 

YPG which dominates SDF is the Syrian wing of the PKK, which is recognised as a terrorist organisation by the US, EU and Turkey.

Here's a quick look at what's playing out in the armed group's last stronghold. 

The final chase

On Sunday, the SDF attacked Baghouz, destroying some of the tunnels Daesh had built to protect its last holdout.  

According to newspaper reports, at least 500 militants along with 4,000 women and children are holed up in the village. The SDF has laid siege from three different directions, with Syrian regime forces manning the other side of the river. 

Across the Syria border, Iraqi military alongside with its Shiite militia allies are also watching any Daesh movement, keeping the armed group away from the borderline, which once helped the group reinforce its military position in both Iraq and Syria.  

Furthermore, the US Air Force, one of the world’s leading air powers, has been instrumental in destroying much of Daesh’s military infrastructure in both Syria and Iraq.

Under current circumstances, there is barely any place left for Daesh militants to take refuge.

According to the International Rescue Group, since December, more than 50,000 people, most of whom are women and children, have left Daesh’s sieged territories. At least 4,000 Daesh militants also surrendered to the SDF militants since February this year. 

What is next? 

Despite facing an inevitable and irreversible territorial collapse, Daesh still has sleeper cells across the Middle East, primarily in Iraq and Syria, where the armed group has recently shown that it’s still capable of launching suicide attacks, remaining a lingering security threat. 

Beyond the actual military threat that Daesh poses, one of the main problems is how tens of thousands of people, who have social and ideological connections with the group and currently live in refugee camps, can be reintegrated into their own respective countries. 

Daesh members have originated in 49 different countries across the world. 

Many of the civilians from formerly Daesh-held territories are now living in the al Hol refugee camp, whose population has recently swelled into more than 60,000, located in northeastern Syria. At least 90 people have died while trying to reach the camp and 60 of them were either babies or infants according to the International Rescue Group. 

Another serious problem is how captured Daesh members will be kept imprisoned and prosecuted. 

In mid-February, US President Donald Trump suggested that European countries should take back their citizens, even threatening to release the captured militants. 

"The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them," Trump tweeted at the time. 

Source: TRT World