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U.S.-backed forces declare victory over ISIS in Syria

U.S.-backed forces declare victory over ISIS in Syria
By Linda Givetash and Ammar Cheikh Omar and Matt Bradley and Reuters and Associated Press with NBC News World News
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President Donald Trump has said he will pull U.S. forces from Syria after Islamic State's territorial defeat.


U.S.-backed fighters in Syria declared victory over Islamic State on Saturday, marking the apparent end of a years-long global campaign to break the extremist group's hold on the region.

The capture of ISIS' last, tiny enclave in the country's south brings its self-proclaimed caliphate to territorial defeat.

"Syrian Democratic Forces declare total elimination of so-called caliphate" spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Twitter early Saturday.

The battle for Baghouz, the group's last holdout and all that remained of the vast territory that it once ruled in Syria and Iraq, had dragged on for more than 10 weeks — far longer than either the U.S. military or their allies on the ground had predicted.

President Donald Trump has been teasing the victory for days.

On Friday, the White House said the Department of Defense had declared that the militant group no longer held any territory in Syria. At around the same time, Trump tweeted that there was "nothing to admire" about ISIS.

The militants, meanwhile, had been putting up a desperate fight, and the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces supported by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes had held off declaring victory.


The SDF declared the final push to capture the village earlier this month after more than 20,000 civilians, many of them the wives and families of foreign fighters, were evacuated.

Bali said they had caught several militants trying to flee among the civilians. Others had handed themselves over.

Their fate has befuddled foreign governments, with few ready to repatriate citizens who pledged allegiance to a group sworn to their destruction, but who might be hard to legally prosecute.


Trump has called on European countries to take back captured Islamic State fighters currently in U.S. custody as the military prepares for a withdrawal.

But a full withdrawal is looking less certain despite the fall of ISIS. Trump recently told members of Congress in a letter obtained by NBC News that he now agrees "100%" with keeping a military presence in Syria.

It's a major shift from Trump's announcement of a full withdrawal inDecember, which blindsided U.S. allies as well as many in Washington and prompted the resignation of then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.


"We have won against ISIS. We have beaten them and we have beaten them badly," Trump said in a December video posted on Twitter. "We have taken back the land and now it's time for our troops to come back home."

The White House has since saidthat a peacekeeping group of about 200 troops will remain in Syria "for some period of time."

In the recent letter reiterating that presence, Trump said, "[We] seek to ensure that all of the gains made in Syria are not lost, that ISIS never returns."

The move appears to heeds warnings that the symbolic end of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's deathly project may not mean the threats posed by ISIS have ended.



A recent Pentagon report found the group could reclaim territory in months and is currently regrouping in Iraq faster than in Syria, underscoring the fluid nature of the security situation in the Middle East.

"Currently, ISIS is regenerating key functions and capabilities more quickly in Iraq than in Syria, but absent sustained [counterterrorism] pressure, ISIS could likely resurge in Syria within six to 12 months," according to the Department of Defense Inspector General Quarterly Report about Operation Inherent Resolve.

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