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Daesh ‘caliphate’ falls in Syria, US-backed forces announce

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Daesh has lost its final shred of territory in Syria, according to US-backed forces which have declared an end to the group’s self-declared caliphate that once spanned a third of Iraq and Syria, .

Syrian Defence Force (SDF) spokesman Mustafa Bali took to Twitter on Saturday to announce a “total elimination of [the] so-called caliphate” after IS militants were defeated in Baghouz.

“Baghouz has been liberated. The military victory against Daesh has been accomplished,” he wrote.

“We renew our pledge to continue the war and to pursue their remnants until their complete elimination.”

Trump claims ‘100 per cent’ elimination

Hours earlier the White House also announced IS-held territory in Syria had been “100 per cent” eliminated, though US officials said sporadic fighting continued on the ground.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters travelling on Air Force One that US President Donald Trump had been briefed about the development by acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

Mr Trump showed reporters a map of Iraq and Syria that indicated the terror group no longer controlled any territory in the region.

“Here’s ISIS on election day,” he said, linking coalition fighters’ progress to his presidency.

He pointed to a swath of red signifying the IS’s previous territorial hold, and then to one without any red. “Here’s ISIS right now,” he said.

“You guys can have the map. Congratulations. I think it’s about time.”

It is not the first time the US President has claimed the defeat of the IS in Syria, tweeting a similar message in December.

 

Though IS’s defeat in Baghouz ends the group’s grip over the jihadist quasi-state straddling Syria and Iraq that it declared in 2014, it remains a threat.

Some of its fighters remain in Syria’s remote central desert, and in Iraqi cities IS has slipped in to the shadows, staging sudden shootings or kidnappings while waiting for a chance for the group to rise again.

The US believes the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is in Iraq.

He stood at the pulpit of the great medieval mosque in Mosul in 2014 to declare himself caliph over Muslims and call on supporters to leave their homes and join the jihadist utopia it claimed to be erecting, trumpeting its currency, flag, passports and military parades.

Oil production, extortion and antiquities smuggling financed the group’s agenda, which included the slaughter of some minorities, public slave auctions of captured women, grotesque punishments for minor crimes and the choreographed killing and beheading of hostages.

Further afield, jihadists in Afghanistan, Nigeria and elsewhere have shown no sign of recanting their allegiance to Islamic State, and intelligence services say its devotees in the West might plot new attacks.

The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja’afari, said IS was not yet finished in Syria, adding it was the Syrian Government, backed by Russia and Iran, that was genuinely battling the group, not the US.

Still, the fall of Baghouz is a big milestone in a fight against the jihadist group waged by numerous local and global forces — some of them sworn enemies — over more than four years.

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