Syria force takes IS bastion, 'caliphate' wiped out

A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighter stands on a rooftop overlooking Baghouz Syria after the SDF declared the area free of Islamic State militants

Syria force takes IS bastion, 'caliphate' wiped out

Bringing out a slightly different, and yet profoundly monumental, map President Donald Trump showed to reporters on Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the ISIS caliphate has officially been defeated.

"Syrian Democratic Forces declare total elimination of so-called caliphate and 100% territorial defeat of Isis [the IS group]", Mustafa Bali, the head of the SDF media office, tweeted on Saturday.

All Islamic State-held territory in Syria has been " 100 percent" eliminated, the White House announced Friday, though officials said sporadic fighting continues on the ground between coalition forces and the group's holdouts.

The victory declaration sets the stage for President Donald Trump to begin withdrawing most of the 2,000 US troops stationed in northern Syria, as he abruptly announced in December that he would do.

In a statement released by the White House on Saturday, Mr Trump said the U.S. would "continue to work with our partners and fight [IS] until it is finally defeated".

So, too, there are concerns about more than 1,000 foreign fighters now being held by the SDF, which has asked repeatedly that they be taken back and prosecuted by their home countries. "It was where ISIS first captured territory, and it is where they finally lost".

But Islamic State still has thousands of battle-hardened fighters across several countries, and questions loom over whether the group's territorial loss is an enduring defeat.

Syrian Democratic Forces paraded during a ceremony announcing their victory over the Islamic State.

The warning from the SDF comes on the heels of a similar message from Joseph Votel, the top commander of U.S. forced in the Middle East, who said in February that the fight against ISIS was not over.

Although largely seen as a symbolic figurehead of the global terror network - he was described as "irrelevant for a long time" by a coalition spokesman in 2017 - al-Baghdadi's capture would be a coveted prize for the various players across both Syria and Iraq. Trump, however, later agreed to leave a small peacekeeping force of 200 soldiers in Syria to ensure Turkey will not get into a conflict with the SDF.

And even until the end, sometime Friday night into Saturday morning, IS put up a vicious defense, using suicide bombers and even children as human shields in an attempt to cling to one last scrap of land over which they could fly their black flag.

The group carried out massacres and documented them with slickly produced videos circulated online. Many remain missing to this day.

But the Islamic State was soon claiming credit for some of the most horrific terrorist attacks around the world, from Paris to Egypt to the USA, where an ISIS-inspired gunman killed 49 people and wounded another 53 in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub in June 2016.

Holding a map in his hand, Trump said that "we're leaving 200 people there, and 200 people in another place in Syria, closer to Israel". Controlling territory gave the group room to launch attacks around the world.

"People there realised that this nobody, this shy guy was an astute strategist", Ms Amara said. The battle for Baghouz has dragged on for weeks and the encampment had proven a major battleground, with tents covering foxholes and underground tunnels.

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