Nearly 5 years later, victory over IS
U.S.-backed forces reportedly liberated the last pocket of territory held by IS in Syria.
BAGHOUZ, Syria — U.S.backed forces declared military victory over the Islamic State group in Syria on Saturday after liberating the last pocket of territory held by the militants, marking the end of a brutal selfstyled caliphate the group carved out in large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The war that has devastated cities and towns across north Syria and Iraq ended in Baghouz, a border village where the cornered militants made their last stand, under a grueling siege for weeks.
On Saturday, the Syrian Democratic Forces raised their bright yellow banner from a shell-pocked house where militants once flew their notorious black flag. Below it stretched a field shattered by the battle, pitted by trenches and bomb craters and littered with scorched tents, twisted wreckage of burned out vehicles, unspent explosives and few corpses.
“Baghouz is free and the military victory against Daesh has been achieved,” tweeted Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdishled SDF, referring to IS by its Arabic acronym.
The fall of Baghouz brings to a close a nearly 5-year global campaign against the Islamic State group that spanned two U.S. presidencies and saw a U.S.led coalition unleash more than 100,000 strikes. The campaign has left a trail of destruction in cities in Iraq and Syria, likely killed tens of thousands and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes.
The campaign put an end to the militants’ proto-state, which at its height four years ago was the size of Britain and home to some 8 million people. But the extremist group still maintains a scattered presence and sleeper cells across Syria and Iraq. It’s not known whether the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is still alive or where he might be.
IS affiliates in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Afghanistan and other countries continue to pose a threat, and the group’s ideology has inspired socalled lone-wolf attacks that had little if any connection to its leadership.
The end of the so-called caliphate also marks a new phase in Syria’s civil war, now in its ninth year. The country is carved up, with the Iranian- and Russianbacked government of President Bashar Assad controlling the west, center and south, the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces holding the north and east, and Turkish allies controlling a pocket in the north. The fear now is of new conflict among those players.
At a ceremony at the nearby al-Omar oil field base, senior U.S. diplomat William Roebuck said the territorial defeat of the Islamic State is a “critical milestone” that delivers a crushing and strategic blow. But he stressed the group remains a significant threat.
“We still have much work to do to achieve an enduring defeat of IS,” he said.
The victory declaration sets the stage for President Donald Trump to begin withdrawing most of the 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in northern Syria, as he abruptly announced in December that he would do. Trump, however, later agreed to leave a small force of 200 soldiers in Syria to ensure Turkey will not get into a conflict with the SDF. Turkey views Kurdish SDF members as terrorists.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces say the Islamic State has been defeated.