Kurdish-led Syria force launches assault on last IS pocket
Kurdish-led forces launched a final assault Friday on the last pocket held by the Islamic State group in eastern Syria, their spokesman said.
The Syrian Democratic Forces have been closing in on the holdout jihadists since September last year and a few hundred surviving IS members are now boxed into an area of around less than half a square kilometre.
The "operation to clear the last remaining pocket of ISIS has just started", SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali, said in a statement using another acronym for the jihadist group.
The SDF evacuated six truckloads of people on Friday from Baghouz, a hamlet by the Euphrates river where the "caliphate" looks set to peter out.
It was the final batch, according to Bali, who said only jihadists remained holed-up inside the shrinking redoubt.
"The people we evacuated today told us that no civilians were inside and that those still inside did not want to leave," Bali told AFP at the Al-Omar oil field.
"If during the advance we discover that there are still civilians we will isolate them from the fighting but we are forced to push ahead," he said.
When asked about a timeline for operations, the spokesman said the battles "will end when we have killed the last IS fighter".
The capture of Baghouz and nearby areas would mark the end of a devastating four-year global campaign to end the extremist group's hold on territory in Syria and Iraq.
The military operation was halted on earlier this month as the SDF said a large number of civilians and hostages were holed up in the territory, which sits atop caves and tunnels where they had been hiding.
The group's so-called "caliphate" that at the height of the militant group’s power in 2014 ruled over an area the size of the United Kingdom.
The final push comes a day after US President Donald Trump again jumped the gun on declaring victory over the jihadists.
"We just took over - you know, you kept hearing it was 90 percent, 92 percent - the caliphate in Syria. Now it's 100 percent. We just took over," Trump said Thursday in remarks to US service members in Alaska on his way back from Vietnam.
IS still has thousands of fighters and sleeper cells scattered across several countries, but that speck of terrain is all that's left of the group's self-declared "caliphate".
In Syria, it maintains a presence in the vast Badiya desert and it has claimed attacks on SDF-held territories.