US-backed forces have forced the militants into a tiny scrap of land (pictured) as they seek to demolish the last of the ISIS caliphate. The coalition forces thought only a few hardline families remained holed up in Baghouz, and have been hoping that each day would be the last for ISIS. But it appears they may have severely underestimated the number of civilians left inside the enclave, after 12,000 people from Baghouz arrived in one camp for non-combatants in northern Syria in the past 48 hours. The Head of US Central Command, warned many of those evacuating are unrepentant, unbroken and radicalised.
Tens of thousands of dust-covered women, children and men have streamed out of the ragged tent encampment that is the last ISIS stronghold in the Syrian village of Baghouz since December - and despite that exodus they still keep on coming.
US-backed fighters have been hoping for weeks that the final day has come for the ISIS caliphate, but its last tiny sliver of land just wont seem to empty, flummoxing the Kurdish-led forces and bogging down their offensive to finish off the once sprawling proto-state.
When we began the operation we knew there would be civilians, but not in such a big number, Adnan Afrin, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, said Thursday.
In recent days thousands more men and women - including those who once flocked to join IS from across the globe - left the IS pocket, upending assumptions that only a few families remained holed up in Baghouz and those who refused to leave or surrender were choosing to die there.
Theyre coming from underground... theyre never-ending, said one SDF official.
Questions remain as to how aid planners, as well as SDF officials and their coalition partners, could have so severely underestimated the number of people left in the crumbling caliphate.
The International Rescue Committee on Friday said as many as 12,000 people from Baghouz have arrived in one camp for non-combatants in northeast Syria over the past 48 hours, including some 6,000 people on Thursday alone.
The women trucked out of the bastion this week gave drastically varying figures on the holdout families that remain in the bombed-out and besieged jihadist bastion.
Theres still more, said Umm Aboud from the northern Syrian city of Al-Bab.
You see how many people have come out in the past few days, theres that many still inside, said the mother of four, her bright green eyes peering through a black veil.
More than 55,000 civilians have arrived in the Kurdish-run Al-Hol camp since December, according to the International Rescue Committee.
The IRC and other agencies are doing all they can do help the new arrivals but Al-Hol camp is now at breaking point, the organisation said Friday.
No one could have guessed that such a large number of women and children were still living in Baghouz.
Carrying what they could manage, black-clad women trucked out of Baghouz in the past few days have said they were living crammed together in trenches, tents and cars near the bend in the Euphrates as the bombing campaign rolled the redoubt back.
There are thousands of families leaving... (but) there were thousands and thousands of families there, even I was surprised, 35-year-old Umm Alaa, from the Iraqi town of Heet, said Wednesday after fleeing.
The mother of 10 said she lost a child last week due to hunger as the situation grew increasingly desperate.
Footage obtained from the Free Burma Rangers, a Christian aid group run by a former US special forces operative, showed hundreds of people still remained in the riverside camp.
In the images said to have been taken Thursday, women draped in black walked through the makeshift dwellings as overturned cars and scraps of twisted metal littered the ground.
The aid group has come in close proximity to the camp in recent days and its head, David Eubank, said some two thousand people could remain inside.
Analyst Mutlu Civiroglu, on the ground in eastern Syria, said that IS was purposefully trying to conceal its numbers.
They have regularly been releasing certain numbers of people, including fighters, in controlled amounts in an attempt to buy time, he said.
If they really wanted to surrender, they would have... and if they wanted to fight again, they could have, he added.
The delay was a deliberate effort, maybe to prepare for something else... what that is though is unclear.
ISIS created a proto-state across large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014, ruling millions of people, but has since lost all of it except a tiny patch in Baghouz by the Euphrates River.
Some of the last IS fighters and their families were cornered on Friday among a dense gathering of vehicles and tents on the waters edge, caught between advancing US-backed forces and Syrian regime fighters across the river.
But General Joseph Votel, head of the US Central Command, warned today that many of those being evacuated from the area are unrepentant, unbroken and radicalised.
He told Congress the fight against ISIS was far from over, and stressed the need to maintain a vigilant offensive against this now widely dispersed and disaggregated organisation.
General Joseph Votel, who oversees US operations in the Middle East, said ISIS fighters had already dispersed across Iraq and Syria and remained radicalised.
He told the House Armed Services congressional committee: Reduction of the physical caliphate is a monumental military accomplishment but the fight against Isis and violent extremism is far from over.
What we are seeing now is not the surrender of ISIS as an organisation but a calculated decision to preserve the safety of their families and the preservation of their capabilities by taking their chances in camps for internally displaced persons and going to ground in remote areas and waiting for the right time to resurge.
He added: We will need to maintain a vigilant offensive against this now widely dispersed and disaggregated organisation that includes leaders, fighters, facilitators, resources and toxic ideology.
The ISIS population being evacuated from the remaining vestiges of the caliphate largely remains unrepentant, unbroken and radicalised.
Defeated but unrepentant, some jihadists were seen limping out of their besieged final bastion in eastern Syria still praising ISIS and promising bloody vengeance against its enemies, reporters on the ground said.
The skeletal and dishevelled figures shuffling out of the smouldering ashes of the caliphate may look like a procession of zombies, but their devotion seems intact.
At an outpost for US-backed forces outside the besieged village of Baghouz, ten women stood in front of journalists, pointing their index fingers to the sky in a gesture used by ISIS supporters to proclaim the oneness of God.
They shouted in unison: The Islamic State is here to stay! Most refuse to disclose their names or nationalities.
As the so-called caliphate crumbles, many Western countries have struggled to decide what to do with its citizens returning from the fighting.
In Britain, the authorities have been dragged into legal wrangling and soul-searching over the fate of jihadi bride, Shamima Begum, and her newborn son.
Despite begging to be allowed to return to Britain after fleeing to Syria from Bethnal Green, east London, aged 15 in 2015, she was stripped of her citizenship last month by Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Donald Trump waded into the debate when he urged European countries to take back their suspected fighters and try them in their own countries, threatening via Twitter that US-backed forces in Syria would release the militants into Europe.
The Kurds also want foreign nations to repatriate their citizens and jail them in their lands, but are willing to make compromises if the international community will provide the funding and security for new prisons.
Last month Iraq announced a group of 13 French citizens accused of fighting for ISIS are to be tried in the country rather than face charges in their home country.
And the Kurdish government in Syria said if Britain and other European countries will not take back their jihadi citizens, then international tribunals, similar to the Nuremberg trials used to convict Nazis after the Second World War, could be set up to deal with the problem.