U.S.-backed fight­ers launch fi­nal push to beat ISIS in Syria

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD -

BEIRUT — U.S.-backed and Kur­dish-led Syr­ian forces said Satur­day they have launched a fi­nal push to de­feat the Is­lamic State group in the last tiny pocket the ex­trem­ists hold in eastern Syria.

Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted that the of­fen­sive be­gan Satur­day af­ter more than 20,000 civil­ians were evac­u­ated from Is­lamic State-held area in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour. An SDF state­ment said the of­fen­sive was fo­cused on the vil­lage of Baghouz.

The SDF, backed by U.S. air power, has driven the Is­lamic State, also known as ISIS, from large swaths of ter­ri­tory it once con­trolled in north­ern and eastern Syria, con­fin­ing the ex­trem­ists to a small pocket of land near the border with Iraq.

Scores of ISIS fight­ers are be­sieged in two vil­lages, or less than once per­cent of the self-styled caliphate that once sprawled across large parts of Syria and Iraq. In re­cent weeks, thou­sands of civil­ians, in­clud­ing fam­i­lies of ISIS fight­ers, left the area con­trolled by the ex­trem­ists.

“The bat­tle is very fierce,” Bali said. “Those re­main­ing in­side are the most ex­pe­ri­enced who are de­fend­ing their last strong­hold. Ac­cord­ing to this you can imag­ine the fe­roc­ity and size of the fight­ing.”

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, a war mon­i­tor, said SDF fight­ers are ad­vanc­ing “cau­tiously” due to mines planted by ISIS gun­men. It said U.S.-led coali­tion war­planes are giv­ing cover to SDF fight­ers.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pre­dicted Wed­nes­day that ISIS will have lost all of its ter­ri­tory by this week.

SCOTT EISEN/GETTY

2020 cam­paign: Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, D-Mass., makes her bid for pres­i­dent of­fi­cial Satur­day in the work­ing-class city of Lawrence, Mass., ground­ing her 2020 cam­paign in a pop­ulist call to fight eco­nomic in­equal­ity and build “an Amer­ica that works for ev­ery­one.”

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