The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) began an assault against the final Daesh enclave in eastern Syria on Saturday, aiming to wipe out the last vestige of the militant group’s “caliphate” in the SDF’s area of operations, according to a Reuters report.
President Donald Trump, who is planning to pull US forces out of Syria, said on Wednesday he expected an announcement as early as next week that the US-led coalition operating in support of the SDF had reclaimed all the territory previously held by the militant group.
The enclave is close to the Iraqi border and comprises two villages, though Daesh also still has territory in the part of Syria that is mostly under the control of the Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian government.
SDF official Mustafa Bali, speaking to Reuters, described the assault as “the last battle”. He later wrote on Twitter that the attack had started and the enclave would “be cleared soon”.
The SDF had handled the last 10 days “patiently” as more than 20,000 civilians were evacuated from the besieged Daesh enclave, Bali said.
Two US security sources said the US government’s top experts strongly believe Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is still alive and possibly hiding in Iraq.
Senior SDF official Redur Xelil told Reuters the force hoped to capture the area by the end of February, but cautioned that Daesh would continue to pose “great and serious” security threats even after that.
Daesh redrew the map of the Middle East in 2014 when it declared a caliphate across large areas of Syria and Iraq. But the group steadily lost ground and its two main prizes – the Syrian city of Raqqa and Iraq’s Mosul – fell in 2017.