Middle East

Ammunition, IV drips remain after Daesh at Syria clinic

Fighters of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) take a rest in the frontline Syrian village of Baghouz on February 19, 2019. AFP / Delil SOULEIMAN

BAGHOUZ, Syria: At a clinic in eastern Syria, Daesh (ISIS) have fled leaving a floor strewn with medical supplies - but also explosives and a foreign passport. U.S.-backed fighters took the three-story building in the village of Baghouz in recent days, and now use its roof to survey the front line against the militants.

After a monthslong campaign, the last Daesh militants are pinned down in their last scrap of territory just hundreds of meters down the road in the same village.

In the former field hospital’s courtyard Monday, a red stretcher lay abandoned.

Under three mounds of earth, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces had buried a woman and two Daesh militants found wearing ammunition jackets.

Inside the building, an intravenous solution drip was still hanging from a wall, near stacks of brown mattresses and piles of colored blankets.

SDF fighter Ehab al-Jabbar, 20, pointed to a metal table streaked with traces of blood.

“This is where they used to put their wounded,” she said.

Around the medical facility, bandages, oxygen masks, tubes, bags of intravenous solution, medicine and papers were strewn all over the floor.

But among them are also bags stuffed with small black triangles.

“They’d use these in their explosive devices,” Jabbar told AFP.

‘ABU AYOUB THE TUNISIAN’

Among the disarray of papers, the SDF had found a handwritten work rota.

“Morning shift,” “Evening shift,” and “ER team,” someone had scrolled in blue ink, near the names of doctors and nurses who were on duty.

Among the listed staff were foreigners - “Abu Hamza the Iraqi” and “Abu Ayoub the Tunisian,” as well as Syrian names.

The papers written in Arabic showed those scheduled to work in the pharmacy, the laboratory, maintenance, and on guard duty.

Daesh declared a “caliphate” spanning parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014, imposing its brutal interpretation of Islam on millions.

In the early years, before several offensives chipped the proto-state down to its last half a kilometer square, the extremist group attracted thousands of foreigners.

In the Baghouz clinic, one had left behind his passport.

It said it belonged to a Tunisian who would be 29-years-old and was stamped with an entry visa to Syria via Turkey dated January 6, 2013.

There was also the election card of a Baghouz resident harking back to 1997.

The Kurdish-led SDF have uncovered Daesh prisons, police stations, and even propaganda centers as they have taken one town after another from the extremists.

Saber, a 23-year-old fighter, said he stumbled on one such broadcasting center for the Al-Bayan radio station just a few kilometers away.

“The place was empty with nothing inside except for a small sign saying Al-Bayan,” he said.

‘FOREIGN LANGUAGE’

On the roof of the hospital, Saber looks out onto what is left of the militant group’s “caliphate.”

“We can hear them speaking on their walkie-talkies but we don’t always understand them,” said the fighter, with a thick black beard. “Some speak in a foreign language.”

A fellow fighter behind him, wearing an ornate scarf around his head, agreed.

“Sometimes they speak in code, saying things like “‘Immigrant 3’ or ‘Immigrant 5,’” he added.

From the rooftop, white and blue tents could be seen over hundreds of square meters in the last militant patch by the Euphrates River.

Two masked men in short trousers and long tunics were also visible.

The SDF estimate hundreds of die-hard militants to be holed up in the last pocket.

But they have been moving cautiously in recent days, as they say Daesh militants have been using hundreds of civilians remaining there as “human shields.”

“The important thing for us is to get out all the civilians ... Then we’ll be able to win, and go home,” the 23-year-old said.

On the edge of the village, a new group of SDF fighters step off two buses into lines, awaiting orders.

On their way out, fellow combatants were elated to be going on leave just as the “caliphate” is expected to fall.

“We’re feeling so great. We’ve wiped them out,” said Majid al-Sheikh, a fighter in his 20s.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 20, 2019, on page 7.

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