Backed forces move to capture final Islamic State territory in Syria

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

Meanwhile, fierce fighting remained underway Monday between the SDF and ISIL around the extremists' last foothold in Baghouz, with the besieged militants fighting back using suicide auto bombs, snipers and booby traps, a Syrian war monitor and a Kurdish news agency said.

The U.S. -backed fighters on Saturday launched a final push to clear the area from IS.

Bali said heavy fighting was going on inside the village of Baghouz on Sunday.

As many as 600 militants may still remain inside the area, majority foreigners, Bali said.

Answering a question on whether there is an exact schedule for the completion of the Manbij road map; Önal said the U.S.is already implementing its withdrawal agenda after President Donald Trump's decision.

All that is now left of the "caliphate" declared by ISIS in 2014 is a cluster of farmhouses and fields on a bend of the Euphrates River in northern Syria.

A United Nations report seen by Reuters last week estimated there are up to 18,000 ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Syria, including up to 3,000 foreign fighters.

What's hanging the balance, and of concern for U.S. officials, is the unresolved fate of the Kurds who are now looking down the barrels of the Turkish army and the head-chopping knives of their jihadi "rebel" allies on the ground, poised to invade formerly US-occupied space in Syria.

Bali said there could be up to 600 IS fighters still inside the pocket, majority foreigners.

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The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said SDF fighters are advancing "cautiously" due to mines planted by IS gunmen.

The SDF managed, with the help of the US, to defeat the IS in much of the areas it had controlled in the eastern Euphrates area.

The WSJ report, citing U.S. officials, says that Washington and Ankara have "made little headway" on the Kurdish issue after a series of diplomatic cold shoulders, including John Bolton being personally snubbed by Turkish president Erdogan last month while Bolton was visiting Turkey for talks.

Earlier Saturday, IS militants attacked SDF fighters near an oil field in the country's east, triggering airstrikes by the USA -led coalition.

The Kurdish-led force lost nine fighters during battles with jihadists, the Observatory said.

He said that when the SDF detects movement from IS fighters, they bomb them, but added: "There have not been any major changes". The observatory also estimated that several hundred civilians remained in the area as well.

US Army General Joseph Votel said he expected American troops to remain stationed in neigbhouring Iraq but did say: "We don't want to keep people on the ground that we don't need and [who] don't have a valid mission".

Trump's surprise announcement in December that he was withdrawing American troops from Syria helped trigger the resignation of his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, and sent USA military officials scrambling to construct a withdrawal plan that preserves as many gains as possible.

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