All Islamic State-held territory in Syria has been“100%” eliminated, the White House announced Friday, though officials said sporadic fighting continues on the ground between coalition forces and the group’s holdouts.
The complete fall of the last Islamic State stronghold in Baghouz, Syria, would signal the end of the group’s self-declared caliphate, which at its height stretched across large parts of Syria and Iraq. Controlling territory gave it room to launch attacks around the world.
President Trump said Friday “it’s about time” that the group no longer controls territory in the region, after a campaign by U.S. and coalition forces that spanned five years and two U.S. presidencies, unleashed more than 100,000 bombs, and killed untold numbers of civilians.
U.S. officials familiar with the situation in Syria said again Friday that the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, are still battling the last remaining Islamic State fighters who are holed up in tunnels along the river cliffs in Baghouz and have refused to surrender.
Officials said that the SDF has not made any formal declaration of victory, and there was no announcement planned for Friday.
According to the officials, the SDF is moving slowly and carefully, and is willing to wait out the Islamic State fighters, who are out of food and low on water. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss mission details.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One that Trump was briefed about the development by acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
Trump showed reporters a map of Iraq and Syria that showed that the terror group no longer controlled any territory in the region. “Here’s ISIS on election day,” he said, referring to the group by a commonly used acronym and pointing to a swath of red area signifying its previous territorial holdings, and then to one without any red, “Here’s ISIS right now.”