Iraqi special forces swept into Fallujah on Friday, recapturing most of the city as ISIS' grip crumbled after weeks of fighting. Thousands of trapped residents took advantage of the militants' retreat to flee, some swimming across the Euphrates River to safety, the AP reports. Residents described harrowing escapes even after ISIS fighters abandoned some checkpoints that had them bottled up in the city. On the river, some boats packed with people overturned in the water. Others picked their way down roads laced with hidden bombs. In some cases, ISIS allowed people to leave only if they took the jihadis' families with them. After weeks of heavy battles since the offensive began in late May, it appeared that ISIS defenses in much of the city collapsed abruptly.
Aid groups estimated that 50,000 civilians were trapped inside Fallujah when the assault began several weeks ago, and they say that 30,000 to 42,000 of those have fled since then. The majority have been staying in camps in areas around the city. Iraqi government forces are now clearing mines and explosives left behind by ISIS in recently recaptured areas of Fallujah, as fighting continues in other parts of the city, an Iraqi military official says. The air force is hitting targets in the city including ISIS snipers positioned near the main hospital, Brig. Haider al-Obeidi tells the AP. Troops are advancing toward the hospital cautiously, concerned that militants stationed there may use patients as human shields, he says. (Earlier in the offensive, ISIS targeted fleeing civilians.)