Assault launched on final ISIS enclave in eastern Syria – News Live

 An assault has been launched against the final ISIS enclave in eastern Syria, aiming to wipe out the last vestige of the terror group’s self-declared “caliphate”  US-backed Syrian forces carried out the assault today on the Baghouz enclave, which represents the last shred of populated land held by the jihadists  The “caliphate” had once spanned a third of Iraq and Syria, but has suffered a series of defeats in recent years  The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had been poised to advance into the enclave for weeks, but had repeatedly held back to allow for the evacuation of civilians  Many of these were the wives and children of Islamic State fighters.    Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, said no further civilians had emerged from the enclave at the Iraqi border since Saturday  He also said the SDF had not observed any more civilians in the area, prompting the decision to attack today  “The military operations have started. Our forces are now clashing with the terrorists and the attack started,” he told Reuters  Mr Bali said more than 4,000 ISIS militants had surrendered inthe last month, among the tens of thousands of people who havestreamed out of Baghouz – a collection of hamlets surrounded byfarmland on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River  But the SDF has also said the most hardened foreign jihadists are still holed up inside, ready to fight to the end    In a post on Twitter, Mr Bali said the attack had started at 6pm (4pm GMT), with air strikes targeting ISIS weapons stores  “Direct and fierce” clashes were underway, he added.  The Islamic State has been driven from the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq by an array of enemies, including forces backed by Russia, Iran and Turkey in addition to the United States  It suffered its major military defeats in 2017 with the loss of the Syrian city of Raqqa and Iraq’s Mosul  However, it is still widely seen as a big security threat operating in remote territory elsewhere and able to launch guerrilla attacks    A former ISIS fighter who surrendered to the SDF two monthsago told Reuters that the group had sent hundreds of men out of its diminishing territory to establish sleeper cells  The SDF, spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, has been the main US partner in Syria and has steadily driven the group down the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, forcing its fighters and followers to fall back to Baghouz  Earlier today, a Reuters journalist in SDF-held ground observed ISIS fighters moving around in the part of Baghouz still under their control  SDF fighters advanced into a makeshift tented settlement abandoned by the group, finding a number of rifles and ammunition left behind

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