EUPHRATES RIVER VALLEY, Syria – President Donald Trump predicted Wednesday that the Islamic State will lose all of its land in Syria and Iraq by next week. However, so far it appears the jihadist army isn’t giving up easily.
Reporting from southern Syria, CBN News‘ Chuck Holton gave a firsthand account of what he describes as the terror group’s last ditch efforts to maintain its grip on the region. “I’m now within sight of ISIS’s last stand in the area of Hajin right back behind me. Off to my right is a place called Bagoose where they say the last ISIS fighters are holed up,” he said.
“We’ve been hearing air strikes throughout the evening last night into the early morning hours,” he continued. “It sounds like the military is really stepping up its efforts to eradicate the last of these guys, but what that’s causing is more people to flee and many of them are injured.”
“And so here at this collection point, those who can make it here have been walking to this point where they are processed by the Syrian Defense Forces and then they are moved to a further site inland,” Holton explained.
Meanwhile, civilians are fleeing into the desert as ISIS continues its brutal campaign, using women and children as human shields.
One 19-year-old woman, a French citizen, told CBN News she came with her mother to join ISIS when she was only 15 – a decision she now regrets.
“I came in 2015 with my mother and my sister to live in the caliphate, and after this, I want to escape,” she said. “But they ask a lot of money and my family in France they are scared to send it to me.”
“There is no food, no nothing,” she continued. “We was living in the tent. No electricity, never electricity. I want to go back to my country.”
Buses come every afternoon to take women and children to a camp. Any men who surrender are assumed to be ISIS fighters and are taken to a detention facility. Families who arrive too late must spend the night here in the desert.
Holton shared a harrowing account of some the ISIS escapees he observed in the war-torn area.
“The light is almost gone out here and we are still hearing fighting going on a couple kilometers away, but the more pressing emergency right now is that there are maybe a couple hundred people out here behind me in the desert. They got dumped off here after escaping from ISIS, but they are going to have to spend the night out here,” he said, noting conditions can be brutal.
“Last night, it was about 30 degrees, and people could die out here,” Holton said. “I’m just watching them as they try to prepare for what they know is coming. It’s already below 40. I would say, clear sky…it’s going to be extremely cold here tonight.”
“And there are these holes that were dug in the earth to be used as slit trenches, as bathrooms, and what they are doing is going in and cleaning out all the excrement and throwing it out, and they are going to sleep in there tonight because it’s at least out of the wind,” he explained.
Holton said he and his team did their best to provide assistance, noting that many of the people are suffering from injuries.
“We’ve given away all the blankets we had,” Holton said. “I gave away my warm socks. We’re trying to figure out a way to help these people as much as we can, but you know it’s just a drop in the ocean. And so I’m not sure what else we can do, except pray.”