Heavy Clashes Reported In 'Final Battle' Against IS In Syria

Heavy Clashes Reported In 'Final Battle' Against IS In Syria

Heavy Clashes Reported In 'Final Battle' Against IS In Syria

Earlier Saturday, IS militants attacked SDF fighters near an oil field in the country's east, triggering airstrikes by the USA -led coalition.

Balli said the battle aims to eliminate all remaining ISIL militants in Baghouz.

In the past week and a half, more than 20,000 civilians have been evacuated from the besieged area. He did not say how long the battle was expected to last.

Merkel's remarks, which came at the inauguration of the Berlin headquarters of Germany's foreign intelligence agency BND, contradict statements by US President Donald Trump that the Islamist group has been defeated.

Bali told AFP that around 600 IS fighters are still inside the pocket, majority die-hard foreign fighers.

Thousands of suspected IS fighters have attempted to blend in with civilians fleeing the jihadists' last bastion, including a large number of foreigners. Most of the civilians are family members of IS fighters.

IS has suffered substantial losses, but the United Nations says it still reportedly controls between 14,000 and 18,000 militants in Iraq and Syria, including up to 3,000 foreigners.

USA and SDF officials say, however, they have no reason to believe he is there.

At the group's height, 7.7 million people were estimated to live under ISIS' rule, according to Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), the official name for the coalition fighting ISIS.

Trump's surprise announcement in December that he was withdrawing American troops from Syria helped trigger the resignation of his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, and sent USA military officials scrambling to construct a withdrawal plan that preserves as many gains as possible.

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On Thursday, the coalition said the "caliphate" had massively shrunk.

Its deputy commander, Major General Christopher Ghika, described the size of the last ISIS pocket as "now less than 1% of the original caliphate".

The withdrawal would also include troops deployed at the U.S. military base at Tanf, near the Syrian border with Iraq and Jordan, they said.

Bali, of the SDF, said that "in the last two months, most who handed themselves in or were arrested were foreign".

SDF began an operation in September to rid Deir el-Zour of IS militants.

In the northeastern Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli on Saturday, SDF fighters stood to attention at the funeral of a YPJ fighter who died fighting IS.

"They have been trying to escape in women's clothes", the YPG fighter said.

The group, however, retains a presence in Syria's vast Badia desert, and has claimed a series of deadly attacks by sleeper cells in SDF-held areas.

At the time, Trump announced the withdrawal of 2,000 USA troops from the conflict-ridden Middle Eastern country.

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