BEIRUT, Feb 16, (RTRS): The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said US-backed fighters seized the last Islamic State enclave in eastern Syria on Saturday after the jihadists who were still there surrendered.
Reuters could not immediately confirm the report. The UK-based war monitoring group said the last few hundred Islamic State militants, many of them foreigners, had surrendered in the past two days to the Syrian Democratic Forces. It said some militants may still be hiding in underground tunnels. With the help of US air strikes, the Kurdish-led SDF has battled to crush Islamic State in the shrinking Baghouz enclave east of the Euphrates river near the Iraqi border.
US-backed fighters in Syria are poised to capture Islamic State’s last, tiny enclave on the Euphrates, the battle commander said on Saturday, bringing its self-declared caliphate to the brink of total defeat. US President Donald Trump said on Friday there would be “great announcements” about Syria over the next 24 hours. Trump has sworn to pull US forces from Syria after Islamic State’s territorial defeat, raising questions over the fate of Washington’s Kurdish allies and Turkish involvement in northeast Syria.
As the SDF advanced under heavy US airstrikes in recent days, a stream of civilians fl ed the few square miles of hamlets and farmland that remain within Islamic State’s ‘caliphate’, along with defeated jihadists trying to escape unnoticed. Though Islamic State fighters still hold out in a pocket of central Syria’s remote desert, and have gone underground as sleeper cells in Iraqi cities, able to launch new attacks, their territorial rule is, for now, over.
It ends a project launched from the great mediaeval mosque of Mosul in northern Iraq in 2014, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seized advantage of regional chaos to proclaim himself caliph, suzerain over all Muslim people and land. He set up a governing system with courts, a currency and fl ag that at its height stretched from northwest Syria almost to Baghdad, encompassing some two million inhabitants. But its reign of terror over minorities and other perceived enemies, marked by massacres, sexual slavery and the beheading of hostages, drew a forceful international military response that pushed it steadily back from 2015.