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U.S. To Begin Search Through The Remnants Of The Islamic State’s Final Enclave

SDF officials have raised the possibility that the remaining IS fighters may also be holding prisoners and hostages, but there has been no word as to their fate in recent days.

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Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) patrol near the village of Baghuz in the Syrian countryside, March 20, 2019. VOA

U.S.-backed forces are starting to search through the remnants of the Islamic State’s final enclave in northeastern Syria, looking for fighters, mines and booby-trapped explosives.

The effort Wednesday to sift through the broken buildings and shredded tents that litter the landscape in the town of Baghuz comes a day after Syrian Democratic Forces took the area from IS fighters in what officials described as a significant blow to the terror group.

SDF officials said as many as 1,500 more people surrendered following Tuesday’s incursion into IS’s final stronghold, including hundreds of injured IS fighters.

Suspected Islamic State (IS) group fighters and civilians are screened by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019.
Suspected Islamic State (IS) group fighters and civilians are screened by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019. VOA

But concerns run high that fighters lurk in trenches dug all around the former IS enclave, as well as in a complex network of caves and tunnels, which some officials said could run for more than two kilometers.

An unknown number of IS fighters have also retreated to a sliver of land along the Euphrates River, and there are no estimates for how many fighters could be hiding in other parts of Baghuz.

“A group of Daesh in Baghuz still fight back and hold their families as human shields,” Zana Amedi, a media official with the YPG militia, which has been supporting the SDF offensive, told VOA Wednesday, using the terror group’s Arabic acronym.

Despite the official caution, small celebrations broke out Wednesday around Baghuz, with some groups of SDF fighters playing music and dancing.

“We have won. We have eliminated the enemy, the terrorists,” Majid Hejjo, an SDF fighter, told the French news agency.

“The comrades are tired, and the battle is over,” said another SDF fighter.

No ‘complete victory’ yet

In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump was equally effusive, telling reporters on the South Lawn of the White House that the very last speck of IS-held territory would be liberated within hours.

“There is no red,” Trump said just hours after an intelligence briefing, showing off a map that compared IS-held territory now and the day he was elected. “In fact, there’s actually a tiny spot, which will be gone by tonight.”

Still, SDF officials and U.S. defense officials have been wary of saying the fight against the terror group’s self-declared caliphate is over.

It has been three months since Trump first announced the defeat of IS in a tweet,and more than a month since he told a meeting of ministers from coalition countries that the end of the caliphate “should be formally announced, probably sometime next week.”

More recently, multiple SDF officials have also forecast the fall of IS within days or even hours, only to see efforts slowed by fierce fighting and the presence of tens of thousands of civilians, mostly the wives, children and family members of IS fighters.

They now say more than 5,000 people have fled Baghuz since SDF resumed its final assault on IS just over a week ago, despite earlier saying only about 1,000 civilians and 300 fighters were holed up in Baghuz shortly after the operation to liberate the town got under way last month.

Smoke rises from the Islamic State (IS) group's last remaining position in the village of Baghuz during battles with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the countryside of the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, March 20, 2019.
Smoke rises from the Islamic State (IS) group’s last remaining position in the village of Baghuz during battles with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the countryside of the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, March 20, 2019. VOA

In all, SDF says more than 5,000 IS fighters have surrendered or been captured over the past month, while another 1,300 have been killed in the fighting.

The U.S.-led coalition also said Wednesday there has been no letup in efforts to ensure the terror group is defeated.

“The ground offensive, coalition airstrikes and artillery continue as needed,” coalition spokesman Col. Sean Ryan told VOA. “The SDF feel they are in control of the area, but as long as Daesh puts up any type of fight and hides in tunnels, they cannot declare complete victory.”

Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather near the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019.
Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather near the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019. VOA

‘Tens of thousands’ of fighters

SDF officials have raised the possibility that the remaining IS fighters may also be holding prisoners and hostages, but there has been no word as to their fate in recent days.

Thousands of SDF troops have massed around Baghuz for weeks, laying siege to the town in an effort to liberate the final IS enclave in Syria. Officials said Kurdish special forces from Iraq also had been brought in to help with the operations.

Also Read: After Failed Hanoi Summit, U.S. Imposes First North Korea-Linked Sanctions

Even once an official announcement is made, U.S. defense officials caution IS still has “tens of thousands” of fighters working either as part of sleeper cells or as part of an active, clandestine insurgency.

Additionally, senior officials believe most of the group’s senior leadership, including its self-declared caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remain at large. (VOA)

Next Story

Student Project into Space, NASA Comes Up With Chicago Planetarium

As the NASA-owned, Northrop Grumann-developed Antares rocket successfully blasted off from the coast of Virginia on April 17, it wasn’t just making a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

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“Our main goal was to see if the ozone layer is getting thinner and by how much, and if there is different parts of the Earth’s atmosphere getting thinner because of the pollution and greenhouse gases, Pixabay

 

College student Fatima Guerra, 19, will be the first to admit, she’s into some really nerdy stuff.

“Like, up there nerdy.”

“Way up there nerdy,” she says. “All the way up into space.”

Guerra is an astronomer in training, involved since a high school internship with a small project at the Adler Planetarium, with big goals.

“Our main goal was to see if the ozone layer is getting thinner and by how much, and if there is different parts of the Earth’s atmosphere getting thinner because of the pollution and greenhouse gases,” she told VOA from the laboratory at the Adler where she often works.

FILE - Apollo 13 crew members Commander Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., right, and Lunar Module Pilot Fred W. Haise pose for a photo during a 40th Anniversary reunion of the moon mission at the Adler Planetarium, April 12, 2010, in Chicago.
Apollo 13 crew members Commander Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., right, and Lunar Module Pilot Fred W. Haise pose for a photo during a 40th Anniversary reunion of the moon mission at the Adler Planetarium, April 12, 2010, in Chicago. VOA

Coding ThinSat

Data that sheds light on those circumstances is gathered by a small electronic device called “ThinSat” designed to orbit the Earth. It is developed not by high-paid engineers and software programmers, but by Chicago-area students like Guerra.

“We focused on coding the different parts of the sensors that the ThinSat is composed of. So, we coded so that it can measure light intensity, pressure.”

“This stuff is very nerdy,” Jesus Garcia admits with a chuckle.

“What we hope to accomplish is look at Earth from space as if it was the very first exoplanet that we have. So, imagine that we are looking at the very first images from a very distant planet.”

As a systems engineer, Garcia oversees the work of the students developing ThinSat for the Adler’s Far Horizon’s Project, which he outlines “bring all types of students, volunteers and our staff to develop projects, engineering projects, that allow us to answer scientific questions.”

Garcia says the students he works with on the project cross national, racial and cultural divides to work toward a common goal.

“Here at the Adler, we have students who are minorities who have been faced with challenges of not having opportunities presented to them,” he said. “And here we are presenting a mission where they are collaborating with us scientists and engineers on our first mission that is going into space.”

Rocket carries project into space

As the NASA-owned, Northrop Grumann-developed Antares rocket successfully blasted off from the coast of Virginia on April 17, it wasn’t just making a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

On board was ThinSat, the culmination of work by many at the Adler, including Guerra, who joined the Far Horizons team as a high school requirement that ended up becoming much more.

“A requirement can become a life-changing opportunity, and you don’t even know it,” she told VOA. “It’s really exciting to see, or to know, especially, that my work is going to go up into space and help in the scientific world.”

Daughter of immigrants

It is also exciting for her parents, immigrants from Guatemala, who can boast that their daughter is one of the few who can claim to have built a satellite orbiting the Earth.

“I told them it might become a worldwide type of news, and I’m going to be a part of it. And they were really proud. And they were calling my family over there and saying, ‘She might be on TV.’ And it’s something they really feel a part of me about,” Guerra said.

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Long after the data compiled by ThinSat is complete, Guerro will still have a place in history as a member of a team that put the first satellite developed by a private planetarium into space.

She says her friends don’t think that’s nerdy at all.

“It’s cool, because it’s interesting to see that something so nerdy is actually going to work, and is going to go up into something so important,” she said. (VOA)