Thousands of civilians are still living under ISIS control, SDF commander says

A fighter with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces keeps watch near veiled women after they fled from the Baghouz area in eastern Syria on February 12, 2019 during an operation to expel hundreds of ISIS jihadists from the region.

(CNN)Thousands of civilians remain inside ISIS's last enclave in Syria, a commander with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Friday.

The commander, who is currently inside the small town of Baghouz Al-Fawqani in the country's east, told CNN a large number of civilians are still in the area under ISIS control. He added that civilians are leaving the ISIS camp through tunnels and buildings.
"We are getting messages from the civilians coming out that many of the ISIS fighters want to surrender and as many as 200 to 300 ISIS fighters don't want to surrender and want to fight till the end," the commander told CNN's Ben Wedeman.
SDF was expecting the evacuation of all civilians to be completed by Thursday, but was surprised with how many remained inside. The SDF Commander told CNN he thinks it will take another four to five days until all civilians are completely out of the pocket of land.
    The SDF launched an offensive nearly two weeks ago to oust ISIS from its last stronghold in Baghouz Al-Fawqani.
    SDF fighters have the terror group's final foothold surrounded but have slowed their advance to avoid harming thousands of civilians who are being held by ISIS as human shields, Commander Chia Kobani, head of operations for the SDF, told a press briefing last week.
    As of Friday, SDF commanders estimate ISIS still controls an area of half a square kilometer in Syria. At its height, it controlled an area the size of Great Britain and ruled over 10 million people.