US-backed forces pressed an offensive against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in its last redoubt in Syria on Thursday (March 21), denying reports the extremist empire had fallen.
Concise News reports that US President Donald Trump claimed ISIS would be eliminated tonight.
“Mopping up operations continue in Baghouz camp,” the command of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) says in a brief statement.
The SDF, which launched a final assault against the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria on Feb 9, denied reports that the ISIS enclave had completely fallen to its forces.
“The information of the total liberation of the village is unfounded,” says the command.
An AFP team on the ground saw trucks carrying people out of Baghouz on Wednesday night. Thousands of people have fled the besieged ISIS pocket in recent weeks and turned themselves in.
— SouthFront (@southfronteng) March 19, 2019
Since January, some 67,000 people have left the enclave, including 5,000 militants who surrendered, according to the SDF.
On Tuesday the advancing Kurdish-led SDF announced its forces had driven diehard fighters out of the main encampment where they had been confined in recent days.
“This is not a victory announcement, but significant progress in the fight against Daesh,” SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali says, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
US President Donald Trump on Wednesday praised the progress of the fight against ISIS since he came to power, saying the fall of their self-proclaimed “caliphate” was imminent.
“The caliphate is gone as of tonight,” Trump says at a military tank factory in Lima, Ohio.
ISIS Caliphate two years ago in red vs. ISIS Caliphate TODAY. (Was even worse in November 2016 before I took office). pic.twitter.com/MUgfex4rCj
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 20, 2019
The US president has signalled the group’s imminent demise on several previous occasions, although ISIS has yet to wave the white flag of surrender.
Trump, who announced in December the withdrawal of some 2,000 US troops who had been deployed in Syria, says about 400 of them would remain on the ground “for a period of time”.
ISIS, declared a “caliphate” in June 2014 across territory it seized in Iraq and Syria. The loss of the Baghouz enclave would signal the demise of the “caliphate” in Syria, after its defeat in Iraq in 2017.
But ISIS has already begun its transformation into a guerilla organisation and still carries out deadly hit-and-run attacks from desert or mountain hideouts.
Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it began with the repression of anti-government protests in 2011.