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US-backed forces in Syria say they will soon declare defeat of Islamic State

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters stand guard as a convoy of truck transports civilians fleeing the battered Islamic State-held holdout of Baghouz. Photograph:( AFP )

Agencia EFE Beirut, Lebanon Feb 18, 2019, 08.56 PM (IST)

A United States-backed Syrian militia on Monday said it would declare the defeat of the Islamic State terror organization in the war-torn country in a short time.

On February 9, the Syrian Democratic Forces, an ethnically-mixed militia led by Kurds, launched an offensive against besieged IS militants in the village of Baghuz, the only area still under the radical group's control in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, near the Iraqi border.

"In a few days, we will be able to announce the total and definitive victory over IS," SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel told EFE.

Gabriel added the release of civilian prisoners held by extremists in Baghuz was being negotiated.

The US-allied fighters have been carrying out offensives against IS-held areas in Syria and have conquered most of the radicals' bastions in Deir al-Zour during the past weeks.

In December, US President Donald Trump surprised allies when he announced the pullout of 2,000 US troops from Syria but has not set a specific date for it yet, a move that led to the resignation of US Defense Secretary James Mattis.

"We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency," Trump tweeted.

His decision drew criticism from the Kurdish militia, as there are fears Turkey could launch an offensive against the SDF, led by the People's Protection Units (YPG).

Turkey considers the YPG as a part of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Following Trump's announcement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo embarked last months on an extensive tour of the Middle East in a bid to reassure US allies of Washington's commitment to the region.

He began his trip with a visit to Jordan, followed by Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Over the weekend, Trump demanded Europe take in IS militants captured in Syria and threatened the US would be forced to release them otherwise.

"The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS (another acronym for the Islamic State) fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial. The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them," he tweeted.

"The US does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go. We do so much, and spend so much – Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!" Trump added.
 

Story highlights

On February 9, the Syrian Democratic Forces, an ethnically-mixed militia led by Kurds, launched an offensive against besieged IS militants in the village of Baghuz, the only area still under the radical group's control in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, near the Iraqi border.