Zana Omer and Sirwan Kajjo - VOA News
BAGHUZ, SYRIA/WASHINGTON — In eastern Syria, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) say Islamic State is trying to slow the attack on the terror group's last scrap of territory in the town of Baghuz by using snipers, suicide bombers and civilians as human shields.
A VOA cameraman traveling with Kurdish fighters spoke to several about what appears to be the final days of the battle.
SDF officials said Monday the vast majority of civilians have already left Baghuz, but a small number are still trapped in the town by IS.
"We don't have an estimate of how many civilians are still inside Baghuz," Lilwa Abdullah, an SDF spokeswoman, told VOA.
Other SDF officials said that IS fighters have increased their counterattacks on SDF fighters, using suicide bombers, explosive-laden vehicles and tunnels.
"This is something that [IS] have done in previous battles, too," Mervan Rojava, an SDF media officer, said. "But this time it is challenging for them because they have nowhere else to go."
He told VOA that the militant group now only controls less than 2 square kilometers inside Baghuz.
"All the tunnels they have dug for a moment like this aren't really useful because they control a very small patch of territory. But they are taking advantage of sending a large number of suicide bombers toward us," Rojava said.
Kurdish military officials believe there are some families of IS fighters who are refusing to leave the town.
IS has been increasingly using snipers to slow down the attack on the terror group. One SDF fighter was wounded by an IS sniper who was hiding behind a child, the SDF reported on Monday.
"Our comrades were closing in on a building when one of [IS's] snipers targeted one of our comrades in the vehicle," an SDF fighter, who witnessed the incident and did not want to be identified for security reasons, told VOA.
Another SDF fighter said that U.S.-led coalition warplanes could not hit IS targets inside Baghuz because of the presence of women and children.
"They are hiding among those women and children. How can warplanes target them? Civilians would die if they targeted [IS]," the SDF fighter, who also didn't want to be identified, told VOA.
So far in the month of March, at least 164 IS fighters have been killed, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told local radio station Arta FM on Monday.
Four SDF fighters were killed in recent clashes with IS, Bali said.