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.

Airstrikes kill 19 civilians in northwest Syria

Updated 08 December 2019

Airstrikes kill 19 civilians in northwest Syria

  • The airstrikes on Idlib province have intensified over the past few weeks

AL-BARA, Syria: Syrian regime and Russian airstrikes on Saturday killed 19 civilians, eight of them children, in the country’s last major opposition bastion, a war monitor said.

The air raids in the rebel-run northwestern region of Idlib also wounded several others, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Airstrikes by regime ally Russia killed four civilians including a child in the village of Al-Bara in the south of the region, the Observatory said.

An AFP correspondent at the scene saw rescue workers pick through the rubble of a two-story home whose concrete roof had collapsed.

Rescuers carried away the body of a victim wrapped in a blanket on a stretcher.

Russian raids also killed nine civilians including three children in the nearby village of Balyun, the Observatory said.

Crude barrel bombs dropped by government helicopters killed five civilians including three children in the village of Abadeeta, also in the same area.

In the southeast of the embattled region, a raid by a regime aircraft killed another child in the village of Bajghas, the Observatory said.

The Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, says it determines the provenance of an airstrike by looking at flight patterns and the aircraft and munitions involved.

The airstrikes on Idlib province have intensified over the past few weeks as the government appears to be preparing for an offensive on rebel-held areas east of the province to secure the main highway that links the capital Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest and once commercial center.

The Idlib region, which is home to some 3 million people including many displaced by Syria’s civil war, is controlled by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The Damascus regime has repeatedly vowed to take back control of Idlib.

Bashar Assad’s forces launched a blistering military campaign against the region in April, killing around 1,000 civilians and displacing more than 400,000 people from their homes. A cease-fire announced by Moscow has largely held since late August.

But the Observatory says deadly bombardment and skirmishes have persisted, with more than 200 civilians killed in the region since the deal.

Syria’s war has killed over 370,000 people and displaced millions from their homes since beginning in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-Assad protests.

Earlier, the Observatory and the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense said four people, including a child and two women, were killed in airstrikes on the opposition-held village of Bara.

The Observatory said five others were killed in the village of Ibdeita and a child in another village nearby.

Different casualty figures are common in the immediate aftermath of violence in Syria, where an eight-year conflict has killed about 400,000 people, wounded more than a million and displaced half the country’s prewar population.

Syrian troops launched a four-month offensive earlier this year on Idlib, which is dominated by al-Qaida-linked militants. The government offensive forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes.

A fragile cease-fire halted the government advance in late August but has been repeatedly violated in recent weeks.