All Islamic State-held territory in Syria has been “100%” eliminated, the White House has announced, though officials said sporadic fighting continues on the ground between coalition forces and the group’s holdouts.
The complete fall of the last IS stronghold in Baghouz would the end of the militant group’s self-declared caliphate, which at its height stretched across large parts of Syria and Iraq.
President Donald Trump said “it’s about time” after a campaign by US and coalition forces that spanned five years and two US presidencies unleashed more than 100,000 bombs, and killed untold numbers of civilians.
US officials said the Syrian Democratic Forces are still battling the last remaining IS fighters who are holed up in tunnels along river cliffs in Baghouz and have refused to surrender.
Officials said the SDF has not announced any declaration of victory, and there was no announcement planned.
According to the officials, the SDF is moving slowly and carefully, and is willing to wait out the IS fighters who are out of food and low on water.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One that Mr Trump was briefed about the development by acting defence secretary Patrick Shanahan.
Mr 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, pointing to a red area signifying the group’s previous territorial gains, and then to one without any red: “Here’s Isis right now.”
He has been teasing the victory for days, most recently on Wednesday when he said the milestone would be achieved by that night, but sleeper cells of fighters have re-emerged.
But it is understood the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are not yet ready to claim victory in IS’s final stronghold of Baghouz.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali went on to say “heavy fighting continues” around Baghouz to finish off the remnants of IS “right now” – some two hours after the White House announcement.