Trump declares all Daesh-held territory eliminated in Syria but SDF continue fighting

Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) hold walkie-talkies in the village of Baghouz, Daesh's last holdout, which the US said has now been eliminated. (Reuters)
Updated 24 March 2019

Trump declares all Daesh-held territory eliminated in Syria but SDF continue fighting

BAGHOUZ, Syria: Daesh militants in eastern Syria still held out late on Friday, the US-backed militia besieging them said, after US President Donald Trump said the extremist group had lost its last scrap of territory.
“Heavy fighting continues around mount Baghouz right now to finish off whatever remains of Daesh,” said Mustafa Bali, head of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) media office on Twitter.
Trump showed a before-and-after map to reporters to demonstrate the extent of jihadist losses during his presidency. He has said several times in recent weeks that Daesh had lost all its land even though fierce battles persisted.
Two hours before Trump gave a statement declaring the group’s territorial rule over, a Reuters journalist heard two air strikes and saw smoke at Baghouz, where Daesh fighters have been waging a last stand.
Daesh’s loss of Baghouz ends its grip over populated territory in the third of Iraq and Syria it once ruled, but the group remains a threat with fighters operating in cities and remote areas elsewhere and able to mount insurgent attacks.
A US-led coalition has helped the SDF drive Daesh from swathes of northeastern Syria and down the Euphrates since 2015 with air strikes and special forces assistance.

An array of local and international forces — some of them sworn enemies of each other — have conducted different campaigns against Daesh during that period, inflicting major defeats on it in 2017 with the capture of Mosul and Raqqa.
The Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja’afari told reporters that Daesh was not yet finished in Syria, but that it was the Damascus government backed by Russia and Iran that was genuinely battling it, not the United States.
Some Daesh fighters remain holed up in the central Syrian desert, an area entirely surrounded by the Syrian army.
“Here’s Daesh on Election Day. And here’s Daesh right now,” Trump said, using the acronym for the group, as he displayed the map with the ‘before’ portion full of red dots and the after map empty.
“You guys can have the map. Congratulations,” Trump said. “I think it’s about time.” The president has previously displayed a map illustrating the diminution of Daesh.
Although he said the “before” map showed Daesh’s presence at his election in 2016, the version given to reporters showed it was dated 2014, when the group’s territorial control was at its peak. US-backed forces in Syria and Iraq captured extensive stretches of that territory before Trump’s election.
The SDF has been battling for weeks to defeat Daesh in Baghouz on the Euphrates riverside at the Iraqi border. This week it announced it had captured a jihadist encampment that represented most of the remaining enclave.
The last small groups of jihadist fighters had been pushed onto a sliver of the riverbank and the cliffs nearby said the SDF, which holds the area at the top of the cliffs.
Bali told Reuters earlier on Friday that SDF fighters had clashed overnight with militants in more than two positions where they were refusing to surrender.
The jihadists were holed up in what appeared to be caves in a rocky shelf overlooking Baghouz and in trenches by the river, he said. “Our forces are trying to force them to surrender, but so far the clashes are continuing.”
Over the past two months, more than 60,000 people have flooded out of the dwindling pocket on the Euphrates around Baghouz, about half of them civilians including some Daesh captives, the SDF has said.
Of the rest, about 5,000 were surrendering jihadist fighters. The others were supporters or family members of the group. The fighters who refused to surrender to the end were mostly foreigners, the SDF has said.
The SDF transported most people who left Baghouz to displacement camps in northeast Syria where aid agencies have warned of dire humanitarian conditions.
The number of people inside the enclave when the assault on it began in January was unexpectedly large, adding to the difficulties at the displacement camps and repeatedly delaying a final offensive.


Anti-Assad fighters withdraw from key area of northwest Syria

Updated 20 August 2019

Anti-Assad fighters withdraw from key area of northwest Syria

  • The withdrawal means an important Turkish observation point in the nearby town of Morek is effectively surrounded by government forces
  • After eight years of civil war, the Idlib region on the border with Turkey is the last major stronghold of opposition to President Bashar

BEIRUT: Jihadists and allied rebels withdrew from a key area of northwestern Syria Tuesday as President Bashar Assad’s forces pressed an offensive against the jihadist-run Idlib region, a war monitor said.
The fighters pulled back from the town of Khan Sheikun and the countryside to its south overnight and in the early hours of Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The withdrawal means an important Turkish observation point in the nearby town of Morek is effectively surrounded by government forces, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
On Monday, a Turkish military convoy crossed the border into the Idlib region, sparking condemnation from Damascus as Ankara alleged air strikes had targeted its troops.
The convoy halted just north of Khan Sheikhun on Monday afternoon and remained there on Tuesday, after government forces took control of a section of the highway into the town.
Pro-government newspaper Al-Watan said Monday morning’s strike targeted a rebel vehicle scouting the road in front of the Turkish convoy.
“The Syrian army in its own way sent a clear message to the Turkish regime by forcing convoys sent by Ankara to help the terrorists in Khan Sheikhun to come to a halt,” it said.
It was a “clear warning against any Turkish attempt to resuscitate the terrorists,” the paper said, adding that the strike had “Russian support.”
After eight years of civil war, the Idlib region on the border with Turkey is the last major stronghold of opposition to President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Since January, it has been administered by the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance, which is led by jihadists from Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
The region of some three million people was supposed to be protected by a Turkish-Russian buffer zone deal signed last year.
But government and Russian forces have subjected it to heavy bombardment since late April, killing more than 860 civilians, according to an Observatory toll.
The United Nations says the shelling and air strikes have also hit dozens of health facilities and caused more than 400,000 people to flee their homes.
The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people since the rebels first took arms following the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.
Rival interventions by outside powers have turned it into a complex conflict with multiple battle fronts that has driven millions of civilians from their homes.