Reports of Islamic State's defeat premature, say troops on the ground

Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces. Photo credit: Reuters

US-backed Syrian fighters say they were still searching territory captured from Islamic State (IS) at its final enclave in eastern Syria and denied a report the jihadists had been finally defeated.

The final capture of the Baghouz enclave at the Iraqi border will mark the end of Islamic State territorial rule that once spanned a third of Syria and Iraq after years of military campaigns by a range of international and local forces.

After weeks of fighting, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) took a big step towards capturing the besieged area on Tuesday when they seized an encampment where the jihadis had been mounting a last defence of the area.

"Combing continues in the Baghouz camp," an SDF media official said on Thursday, citing commanders of the operation.

Syrian Kurdish news outlet Hawar had earlier reported that the entire enclave had been captured and IS defeated.

"There is no truth [to the report of] the complete liberation of the village," the SDF official said.

The report on Hawar News, which is close to the Kurdish-led administration that runs much of northern Syria, was later removed from its website.

US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that a "tiny spot" of remaining IS territory would be "gone by tonight".

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, whose country has participated in the campaign, said on Wednesday he expected the announcement of the "final territorial defeat" to be made in the "next few days".

Though the defeat of IS at Baghouz ends its grip over territory, it remains a threat, with fighters operating in remote territory elsewhere and capable of mounting insurgent attacks.

The US military has warned that Islamic State may still count tens of thousands of fighters, dispersed throughout Iraq and Syria, with enough leaders and resources to present a menacing insurgency.

Reuters