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Battle for last Islamic State enclave nears end

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The operation to take Islamic State’s last enclave in eastern Syria looks close to an end, with no sign of clashes as US-backed fighters comb the area for hidden jihadists.

 

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Reuters reporters overlooking Baghouz from a hill on the bank of the Euphrates at the Iraqi border said the area was calm, and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia searched for tunnels and landmines, an SDF official said.

The SDF on Tuesday captured an encampment where the jihadists had been mounting a last defence of the tiny enclave, pushing diehard fighters onto a sliver of land at the Euphrates riverside.

US President Donald Trump yesterday showed reporters a pair of contrasting maps of Syria, one showing Islamic State-controlled areas when he was elected in late 2016, and what it looks like today.

“When I took over, it was a mess,” Trump said, indicating red areas on the map controlled by ISIS.

“Now, at bottom … there is no red. In fact, there’s actually a tiny spot which will be gone by tonight. So that’s ISIS red right there, and the bottom one is how it is today,” he said.

Islamic State’s defeat at Baghouz would end its territorial control over the third of Syria and Iraq it held in 2014 as it sought to carve out a huge caliphate in the region.

But the jihadist group still remains a threat.

Some of the group’s fighters remain holed up in the central Syrian desert and others have gone underground in Iraqi cities to wage an insurgent campaign to destabilise the government.

The Baghouz enclave was the last part of the huge territory IS seized in 2014, straddling large tracts of Iraq and Syria, where its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a new caliphate.

His fate, along with other Islamic State leaders, is not known, though the United States has said it believes him to be in Iraq.

In the past 24 hours, IS supporters and activists have circulated photos on social media that purportedly show children and women, some alive and some apparently dead, among corpses of fighters after a coalition strike on the encampment.

Reuters was unable immediately to verify the authenticity of the pictures.

-AAP

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