Backed Syrian fighters advance in clashes with Islamic State

Minnie Murray
February 11, 2019

That would herald an end to the almost five-year-old war aimed at pushing the Islamic State out of its self proclaimed "caliphate", the once vast stretch of territory spanning Syria and Iraq that at its peak was roughly the size to Britain.

BEIRUT (AP) _ A spokesman for US -backed Syrian forces says they have captured 41 positions held by Islamic State group militants and destroyed their fortifications in the last tiny pocket they hold in eastern Syria.

"Remnants - that's all they have, remnants - but remnants can be very unsafe", Mr Trump said.

Mr Trump said last December that he had ordered a complete troop withdrawal from Syria, a shock announcement that left the Kurds scrambling for new allies.

According to Reuters, the USA said on January 29 that ISIS was expected to lose the final chunk of territory within a couple of weeks.

Speaking to the coalition envoys on Wednesday, US President Donald Trump said that the last remnants of the IS "caliphate" will be liberated by sometime next week, and urged regional powers to take on a greater role in ensuring IS does not rise again while US troops return home.

"ISIS remains an active insurgent group in both Iraq and Syria", noted a report last week by the Pentagon's Inspector General.

Civilians fleeing fighting between Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Islamic State (IS) jihadists in the frontline Syrian village of Baghuz, await to be screened and registered by the SDF in the countryside of the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province on February 3, 2019.

As IS has been pinned back its surviving fighters have reverted to guerrilla warfare and remain a potent force. But activists and residents say Isis still has sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq, and is laying the groundwork for an insurgency. Washington has illegally occupied 55-kilometer area around al-Tanf since 2016, and several hundred US Marines have trained several Syrian militant groups, including Maghawir al-Thawra, there.

At least 48 suspected IS members were among them, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Bali said 400 to 600 jihadists were estimated to be holed up in the enclave, including foreigners and other hardened fighters.

The weekend offensive by SDF forces comes after President Trump said on Wednesday he expected to announce as early as next week that the US -led coalition had recovered all of the area previously held by ISIS.

With many foreign governments reluctant to repatriate citizens who supported ISIS, and Syria's Kurds insisting they are unable to hold the prisoners long term, rights organisations have warned that foreign fighters face illegal rendition to Iraq. "That's why we speak for Syria returning to the Arab League as soon as possible", the diplomat stressed.

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