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BAGHUZ, SYRIA / WASHINGTON —U.S.-backed forces fighting Islamic State (IS) in Syria said they have rescued three of their fighters who had been detained by the militant group in its last stronghold in eastern Syria.
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led alliance, said Tuesday they rescued the three fighters in a special operation inside the town of Baghuz in eastern Deir el-Zour province.
A VOA cameraman embedded with Kurdish fighters spoke with the three fighters hours after they were freed Tuesday.
Freed captive Ahmed Hossein said IS fighters were hiding among them to avoid being targeted by the SDF and U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.
"We were 52 people held in a car. The car was always on the move. [IS] was using us as human shields," he told VOA.
"They would take us to anywhere there was fighting and put us on the front line so that our [SDF] comrades would not hit them," Hossein added.
He said that during his captivity, there were days when he couldn't get any food or water.
Last week, SDF fighters launched a final assault to recapture Baghuz from IS. The offensive, however, has slowed in the past two days because the terror group has increasingly been using people as human shields, an SDF official said.
Another captured fighter who was liberated in SDF's night raid said the remaining IS fighters in Baghuz were desperate as the U.S.-backed forces continued their advance on the Syrian town.
"In the last 15 days, they were acting very tensely," Abdulrazaq Mohammed said. "Our comrades were attacking them from every side. So they started using us and civilians as human shields."
Previous raids to free fighters
Since the beginning of the campaign to remove IS from Baghuz in February, the SDF has carried out similar raids to free its fighters held by IS.
On Monday, SDF also freed a number of SDF fighters, while evacuating hundreds of civilians from Baghuz.
"Five SDF fighters who had been held hostage were liberated," SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said in a tweet. Kurdish military officials said a significant number of SDF fighters are still in IS's captivity in Baghuz.