Backed troops flush Isil from last square mile of territory in Syria

12 February, 2019, 03:07 | Author: Trevor Moore
  • Islamic State chief escapes death as his fighters turn on him: report

It's estimated that between 500 and 1,000 civilians are inside, Bali said.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Saturday announced the final push to expel hundreds of diehard jihadists from that patch on the Iraq border.

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told AFP that "the battle has started", following the week-long pause in fighting.

U.S. President Donald Trump predicted Wednesday that IS will have lost all of its territory by next week.

IS overran large parts of the country and neighboring Iraq in 2014, declaring a "caliphate" there, but various military offensives have reduced it to a fragment.

He said in the last ten days, SDF fighters had handled the battle "patiently" as more than 20,000 civilians were evacuated from the besieged enclave comprising two villages near the Iraqi border.

The strategy, which the group deployed in Mosul and elsewhere, is presenting a real challenge, SDF commanders said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the push by the Kurdish-led SDF has been slow due to land mines and sniper fire, as well as the extremists' use of tunnels and suicide auto bombs. "The Syrian Democratic Forces will and we will help them", he added, referring to the US-backed group of Kurdish and Arab fighters that have been America's principal ally in Syria.

While the SDF has warned that it is unable to detain growing numbers of ISIS fighters and their families long term, watchdog organisation Human Rights Watch has warned that the rendition of prisoners to Iraq to face trial risks breaching worldwide and domestic laws.

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Relative calm is prevailing eastern Syria as the negotiation for the withdrawal of the IS from the last four sq km it controls in the eastern Euphrates River is ongoing, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

As the operation enters its final stages, fleeing ISIS militants have been caught attempting to sneak past SDF checkpoints by any means possible.

In recent weeks, US officials have said IS has lost 99.5 percent of its territory and is holding on to under 5 square kilometers (under 2 square miles), where most of the fighters are concentrated in Syria.

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

Islamic State (IS) group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi overcame an attempted coup in a two-day battle with his foreign bodyguards, who were then rounded up and executed, witnesses told the Guardian.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the SDF was "advancing slowly" on the edges of Baghouz, but cautioned landmines, snipers and tunnels dug by ISIL fighters were hindering progress.

The clash reportedly took place in September in a hamlet IS held in eastern Syria, al-Keshma, near Baghouz.

Mushrooming black clouds rose over the embattled jihadist holdout in eastern Syria, as missiles and a warplane streaked through the sky.

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