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Islamic State Driven From Last Village In Syria

By RFE/RL March 23, 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump has hailed the recapture of the last Islamic State-held territory in Syria, but said the United States would remain vigilant until the extremist group "is finally defeated wherever it operates."

"We will continue to work with our partners and allies to totally crush radical Islamic terrorists," Trump said in a statement on March 23.

U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on March 23 that they had liberated the village of Baghouz, the last area held by Islamic State (IS) in Syria, marking the end of a brutal self-styled caliphate, which the extremist group carved out in large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Earlier, Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), tweeted on March 23 that the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz was "free," declaring victory over the extremists and the end of their self-declared caliphate.

SDF fighters paraded in memory of 11,000 comrades killed in years of fighting against IS. A band played the American national anthem.

The SDF has been battling to capture Baghouz at the Iraqi border for weeks.

Bali says the so-called caliphate, which once sprawled across much of Syria and neighboring Iraq, is gone, and pledged to continue the fight against remnants of the extremist group until they are completely eradicated.

'Committed To Enduring Defeat'

Western officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said the United States and coalition partners still had much to do despite the group's territorial defeat in Syria.

"We still have work to do to make sure that radical Islamic terrorism doesn't continue to grow," Pompeo said.

U.S. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said the "work is far from complete" and added that the United States remains committed to Islamic State group's "enduring defeat."

"We will continue our work with the Global Coalition to deny [IS] safe haven anywhere in the world," Shanahan said in a statement on March 23.

France's President Emmanuel Macron and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed the recapture of Baghouz as a major step. Both France and Britain back the SDF.

In a statement, May cautioned that the coalition must not lose sight of the threat IS still poses.

Syria's Ambassador to the UN Bashar Jaafari said on March 22 that it was the Syrian government backed by Russia and Iran that was genuinely battling IS, not the United States.

The fall of Baghouz marks the end of a nearly five-year campaign by multiple forces against the extremist group, which at one time controlled an area the size of Britain.

The Iraqi government declared victory against IS in 2017.

The group no longer controls any territory in Syria or Iraq, but continues to carry out attacks in both countries.

It also has affiliates in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/islamic-state-syria/29837684.html

Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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