NEAR BAGHOUZ: US-backed fighters in Syria are poised to capture militant Islamic State group’s last, tiny enclave on the Euphrates, the battle commander said , bringing its self-declared caliphate to the brink of total defeat.
Jiya Furat said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had cornered the remaining militants in a neighbourhood of Baghouz village near the Iraqi border, under fire from all sides.
“In the coming few days, in a very short time, we will spread the good tidings to the world of the military end of Daesh,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. He was speaking after 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 IS’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 air strikes in recent days, a stream of civilians fled the few square miles of hamlets and farmland that remain within IS’s ‘caliphate’, along with defeated jihadists trying to escape unnoticed.
Though IS 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, almost 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 flag 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.
Most of the fighters left in Baghouz are foreigners, the SDF has said, among the thousands drawn by Baghdadi’s promise of a new jihadist utopia straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border and expunging national borders.
All that remains, said Furat, is an encircled pocket some 700 metres square. “Thousands of civilians are still trapped there as human shields,” he said.