Backed Syrian fighters advance in clashes with Islamic State

11 February, 2019, 07:42 | Author: Sue Mclaughlin
  • Map showing last IS-held territory in Syria

The SDF, backed by US -led coalition airstrikes, is fighting IS in a 4-square-kilometer area that includes Baghuz and is near the Iraqi border.

Major General Christopher Ghika, the coalition's deputy commander, described the size of the last patch of land held by the jihadists as "now less than one percent of the original caliphate".

"You're always going to have some people", he explained to representatives from the global coalition to defeat ISIS.

In the past week and a half, more than 20,000 civilians have been evacuated from the besieged area.

Four years ago, ISIS controlled territory the size of Britain and administered millions of people, but the United States coalition fighting the group said 99.5% of it has been clawed back in successive offensives.

A senior Trump administration official briefed on objectives outlined at the meeting, speaking to the reporter, said, "As the president has stated, the USA will maintain whatever capability is necessary for operations needed to prevent the Islamic State's resurgence".

That figure includes some 3,200 suspected militants detained by the SDF, according to the monitor, which relies on sources inside Syria for its information.

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.

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Mustafa Bali said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces made the advances early on Sunday, hours after they launched a final push to clear the area from IS militants on Saturday night.

SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali told AFP on Wednesday that his group is detaining foreign IS fighters on a "daily basis".

The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and their female equivalent, the Women's Protection Units (YPJ), have formed the backbone of the SDF.

The jihadists however retain a presence in Syria's vast Badia desert, and have claimed a series of deadly attacks in SDF-held areas.

Syria's Kurds have largely stayed out of the country's civil war, instead building semi-autonomous institutions in northern and northeastern regions they control.

With hundreds of civilians fleeing this week before the SDF assault, it is unclear how many people remained in the town Saturday.

The Turkish offensive against Kurdish militias was postponed in January after Erdogan's conversation with Trump, which ended in a plan to create a 30-kilometre (18-mile) buffer zone in Syria.

The President's remarks to the ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS largely glossed over his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, the conditions and logistics of which are still under negotiation. The Syrian government has said that the areas controlled by the Kurds would eventually revert to government control.

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