US-backed Syrian fighters say a “large number” of Islamic State militants and their families are surrendering a day after intense fighting in the only area the extremists still hold in eastern Syria. Sky News Middle East correspondent Alex Rossi watched as they retreated:
They escape in their hundreds, each one of them struggling to clamber up a ridge on the edge of Baghouz.
They are broken, hungry and disconsolate.
This is what the end of Islamic State’s so-called caliphate looks like.
The thin shapes, their clothes ragged, carry what they can.
Some are so exhausted they struggle to walk.
Others, who are severely injured, are scooped into blankets and carried up the hill overlooking a makeshift tented city they called home just hours ago.
The young appear shell-shocked. A young girl just stops. She’s completely dazed.
For weeks they have existed under heavy bombardment in trenches and tunnels.
Some of the children emerge alone – their parents presumed to be dead.
And as this mass of people clamber up to safety it is the very young you notice most.
A boy is carried up the ridge by relatives.
He appears listless, with a primitive chest drain used to relieve internal bleeding swinging below him.
The fanatics that survived have had weeks to surrender but instead they chose to sacrifice their children to the brutality of war.
Most of the men we see are wounded – and almost certainly fighters – their limbs badly bandaged.
We ask a group how many are left inside?
“Lots” comes back the answer.
For five years IS has spread fear across these lands but now it is in its final days.
But even in the organisation’s death-throes it is still resisting the inevitable.
The fractured skyline of Baghouz still thunders with the sound of war.
But so far the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and coalition jets have not been able to deliver the decisive blow.
Daesh (Islamic State) has just a tiny piece of land in this nowhere place and they are encircled yet they refuse to give up.
For days Kurdish and Arab Forces, supported by coalition air power, have battered Baghouz but have been unable to declare victory.
But SDF fighters know this battle is over in all but name. A group of fighters huddled in the back of a pick-up truck are joyous. We ask them whether Daesh are finished.
“It’s over,” they yell back. “They are finished.”
In the days to come more IS fighters will surely be forced to give up and join those who’ve already surrendered.
For an organisation that used to project power through video propaganda, its militants now look weak and some can barely stand.