The final military push for control of ISIS-held territory began with "intense" clashes, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Sunday.
More than 23,000 Syrian civilians and foreign nationals fled eastern Syria this past week as the SDF, which includes Kurdish YPG militia fighters, prepared to move on IS in Deir el-Zour governorate, according to local officials and activists.
Up to 600 jihadists could remain inside the area, including many foreign fighters, said Mustafa Bali, SDF spokesman.
One big question has been whether some US forces in Syria might move to neighboring Iraq, where the United States has more than 5,000 troops helping Baghdad fight ISIS and prevent the group's resurgence.
As the operation enters its final stages, fleeing ISIS militants have been caught attempting to sneak past SDF checkpoints by any means possible.
"There is of course a safe corridor and civilians are coming out daily, and this reduces their number in Baghouz until we can be sure the town is free of civilians".
A picture taken on February 9, 2019, near Al-Qaim, a few kilometres away from the last scrap of territory held by ISIL in eastern Syria, shows wheeled 155 mm gun-howitzer CAESAR system used by French soldiers engaged in Operation Chammal, the French military operation within Operation Inherent Resolve, the global coalition against ISIL.
France's Defence Minister Florence Parly visited the Iraqi side of the border on Saturday where France has a forward artillery base near al-Qaim, just a few kilometres from Baghouz.
The US military has already started withdrawing equipment from Syria.
President Donald Trump, repeating a variation of an earlier statement by Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, predicted earlier this week that the U.S. military and its coalition partners will have successfully liberated all ISIS-controlled territory.
US Central Command head Gen. Joseph Votel testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on February 5, 2019, in Washington.
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