Syria’s Baghouz: Moments before and after the ‘Holocaust’

26/3/2019

Massive destruction in the village of Baghouz takes place after airstrikes conducted by the coalition forces [Getty Images]

By Adnan Hussein — Deir Az Zor province

A few days before the coalition forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have carried out their attacks to destroy Eastern Syria’s Baghouz camp, the last Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL , ISIS) enclave in the country, dozens of families and ISIL fighters have fled the place.

These families and ISIL fighters were given a passage by SDF to evacuate the camp, as agreed between US-backed coalition, SDF, and ISIL. Believing that ISIL had surrendered completely, SDF proceeded with the planned operation and paved the way toward total victory.

Ahmad, a 23-year-old SDF fighter, took part in the recent operations against ISIL, and witnessed the scale of destruction and damage that Baghouz camp and its inhabitants suffered.

He recounts the last moments before the “Holocaust” of the camp, saying “we received orders by the commander to retreat. The (Arab) forces that took part in the recent operation that involved a battle on the armed group’s last bastion, would be replaced by other forces from the counter-terrorism and intelligence services at the SDF. The plan was to implement the agreement, carry out a security search, and transfer ISIL fighters to another location.”

SDF announces the destruction of ISIL’s last major bastion [Reuters]

As per the orders, most of the Arab forces within the SDF were removed and replaced by Kurdish forces called counter-terrorism forces. Not too long after that, the agreement was broken.

ISIL believed that it would have access to a safe passage to the Syrian or Iraqi desert on the condition that the detainees would be released. But this request was rejected by both the coalition and the SDF, which led to a battle that caused the annihilation of Baghouz camp along with its inhabitants.

ISIL has been prepared for a moment like this since the beginning of the agreement, hence it carried out an attack on the back lines of the SDF and the US-France coalition forces which were part of the raid and search operations. As a result, ISIL managed to kill more than 35 members of the SDF elite forces, and resulted in wounding and killing a number of fighters from the coalition forces.

ISIL fighters and their families after they surrendered in Baghouz on March 12 [Reuters]

During that time, the coalition air raid on the camp has started. Many fighters took turns to raid the camp using high-explosive bombs and phosphorus munitions. It was only hours until the sounds of the raid and bombs stopped and everything went silent.

“At dawn, we heard a voice speaking in Arabic coming from our wireless communication devices that said no entry is allowed to the camp except for the permitted forces and for those in charge of the security search” Ahmad explains.

“We entered the camp with a group of fighters and saw dead bodies of women and children all over the place. We could clearly hear the groans of the wounded, and when we turned our heads left and right, we could see the cars burning and how the small hide-outs underground have now turned into burials,” he adds.

“The scene was similar to the one we watch on TV about the horrors that took place during the World War. Immediately after, the vehicles that belonged to the coalition and SDF special forces closed the camp to prevent access to journalists and other fighters. After searching the camp, the forces carried the survivors, along with 350 dead bodies, to another location, not knowing whether they were detainees or members of ISIL,” he says.

Close to the camp, a man appeared from Hajin, a small city in Deir Az Zor province, eastern Syria. He was eagerly waiting to hear the news of successfully liberating the village from ISIL’s control. He and his family were hoping to see their daughter, who has not yet appeared with the groups that fled from ISIL-controlled areas before.

The man asked the fighters: “Are there any survivors? Have you seen my daughter? Have you seen her children?” He was not allowed enter to the camp, but was told to either look for them in the nearby hospital, because the bombs were fired randomly, or to wait until the area was searched.

A family in Baghouz camp [Reuters]

At midday, the forces who were searching the camp found several families suddenly emerging from under the piles of destruction. The families raised their hands signalling their surrender and said loudly from a distance, “we are civilians”.

After a close security check-up, the forces found out that these people survived the airstrikes because they were hiding in a tunnel, and it was also revealed that some of them are families of ISIL fighters. They were immediately transferred to checkpoints, interrogated and moved to their designated camps.

Sources say that even after seven days, the US coalition forces are still surrounding the area and preventing journalists from accessing it. The forces have been using inspection devices and search tools, which is believed to be used in their search of the armed group’s money, gold, and other materials, as it was revealed that ISIL has only handed over a small portion of what they had.

Sources confirm that the village was completely wiped out along with the camp. The wreckage of houses and vehicles was the only visible sight around. After the battle, the village was left with irreparable damage made by the airstrikes and explosive-bombs as they erased all signs of life. This conflict caused important secrets to stay hidden, most notably the fate of the commanders who belonged to the highest ranks and the fate of thousands of detainees from Iraq and Syria.

Airstrikes have completely wiped out Baghouz camp [Getty Images]

After losing hope of finding his brother who was kidnapped by ISIL two years ago on the pretext of belonging to the Free Syrian Army, Ahmad decided to join the FSD in order to search for his brother.

“The village of Baghouz, along with the camp, contained valuable booty for the coalition and the SDF. After obtaining the gold and capturing ISIL leaders who surrendered without the use of force, both the coalition and SDF have set the village and the camp ablaze, destroying all traces of information on the detainees and other secrets,” says Ahmad.

ISIL’s final chapter has ended as a result of the cooperation that brought together more than 70 countries and thousands of fighters. There are still many secrets hidden and questions unanswered, most importantly, what is ISIL’s next move after the escape of most of its leaders, especially ISIL chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

Source: Al Jazeera (Original Content -Arabic)

As the first channel in the Arab world dedicated to providing comprehensive and independent news