US-backed forces in Syria yesterday announced that they have liberated the last area held by the Islamic State group in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz, declaring victory over the extremist group and the end of its self-declared caliphate.
“Baghouz is free and the military victory against Daesh has been achieved,” Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Twitter, referring to the group by its Arabic acronym.
Elimination of the final Islamic State stronghold in Baghouz marks the end of the militants’ self-declared caliphate, which at its height blanketed large parts of Syria and Iraq.
The campaign to take back the territory by the US and its partners has spanned five years and two US presidencies, unleashed more than 100,000 bombs and killed untold numbers of fighters and civilians.
However, the weekend announcement, in a tweet, was anti-climactic and on the ground sporadic gunfire continued.
One day earlier, US President Donald Trump had declared that Islamic State militants no longer controled any territory in Syria.
Journalists in Baghouz yesterday reported hearing mortars and gunfire directed toward a cliff overlooking the village, where US-led coalition airstrikes were carried out a day earlier.
SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel on Friday told reporters that there were still Islamic State fighters hiding in caves near Baghouz and that clearing operations were still under way.
At its height, the Islamic State ruled one-third of both Syria and Iraq, holding millions of people hostage to its harsh and violent interpretation of Muslim law. The group carried out large-scale massacres and documented them with slickly produced videos circulated online.
During a rampage through Iraq’s Sinjar District in 2014, it captured thousands of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority and forced them into sexual slavery. Many remain missing.
The group also used its caliphate as a launchpad for attacks around the globe, including assaults in Paris in 2015 that killed more than 130 people.
While it imposed an unforgiving version of Muslim law through public beheadings and crucifixions, the group also carried out the mundane duties of governance in its territories, including regulating prices at markets and building infrastructure.
The Islamic State no longer controls any territory in Syria or Iraq, but continues to carry out insurgent attacks in both countries.
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