Kurds launch final push to defeat IS in Syria

Geraldine Edwards
February 11, 2019

The U.S. -backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will start an assault on Saturday against Islamic State's last enclave in the part of Syria where the U.S. -led coalition has been supporting operations against the group, an SDF official told Reuters.

"Village of Baghuz, which is the only remaining #ISIS pocket, will be cleared soon", SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali wrote on Twitter.

A top U.S. general said last week ISIS would pose an enduring threat following the U.S. withdrawal, as it still has leaders, fighters, facilitators and resources.

"This battle will be sealed in the coming days", he said. Special Operations forces working alongside the SDF fighters will be particularly keen on establishing whether any key Islamic State leaders are still holed up in Baghouz, including perhaps the Islamic State's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. U.S.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the USA military was preparing to withdraw from Syria by the end of April.

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Trump wants to withdraw USA troops from Syria by the end of April, a plan that has alarmed European allies who fear Islamic State would resurface in Syria in the absence of a credible peace plan to end the country's civil war.

Earlier this week, SDF officials said they believed there are 1,500 civilians in the town and 500 ISIS fighters.

The United States is likely just weeks away from starting the withdrawal of ground troops from Syria ordered by President Donald Trump, the top US commander overseeing American forces in the Middle East said on Sunday.

The humanitarian pause by the SDF follows reports that IS are holding high-profile western hostages, such as British journalist John Cantlie and popular long-term Syria resident Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, as bargaining chips.

"Currently, the SDF is advancing very cautiously to ensure the safety of civilians that ISIS is using as human shields". The observatory also estimated several hundred civilians remained in the area as well. Most of the civilians are family members of IS fighters.

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Trump said in December he was pulling all 2,000 USA troops out of Syria, saying the battle against ISIL there was nearly won.

The SDF said it has not been in communication or agreed the ceasefire with IS.

The Observatory said that since the SDF began its offensive against IS in the area on September 10, some 1,279 IS gunmen and 678 SDF fighters have been killed.

The withdrawal would also include troops deployed at the USA military base at Tanf, near the Syrian border with Iraq and Jordan, they said.

The coalition and allied Kurdish forces have captured "approximately 99.5 per cent" of IS-controlled territory, he said in a statement.

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