U.S.-backed forces move to capture final Islamic State territory in Syria

Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces gather in the village of Al-Hazeema northern the city of Raqqa, Syria on June 6, 2017. The SDF renewed efforts to recapture the final territory in Syria under Islamic State control. Photo by Youssef Rabie Youssef/EPA

Feb. 11 (UPI) — The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces launched an attack over the weekend to capture the final territory in Syria under Islamic State control.

On Saturday, the SDF renewed its efforts to capture the village of Baghouz Al-Fawqani in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province after putting it on hold for a week, as more than 20,000 civilians were evacuated from the area.

The U.S.-led coalition launched airstrikes on the village where at least 500 fighters are believed to remain, as some are believed to have burrowed underground and to be traveling through a network of tunnels that allow them to move between houses without being detected.

SDF commanders told CNN two of its fighters were killed and others were injured after an SDF vehicle was hit, while IS fighters retaliated to their advances with heat-seeking missiles.

IS controls less than 1 percent of what it considered its caliphate in Syria and Iraq, The Wall Street Journal reported.

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The SDF didn’t state how long it could take to finish seizing the village, but coalition spokesman Col. Sean Ryan said fighters are still facing challenges from IS.

“It is too early to speculate a specific date as remnants of the enemy still have military and financial capabilities,” Ryan said. “People are still being persecuted out there by ISIS, so the mission remains the enduring defeat of ISIS.”

President Donald Trump on Wednesday predicted that “100 percent” of the caliphate would be defeated as quickly as in a week, adding he was simply waiting on “the official word.”

Last week the Senate passed a Middle East policy bill, including a rebuke of Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

Gen. Joseph Votel, the top military officer in charge of operations in the Middle East, had previously told Senate lawmakers he wasn’t consulted before President Donald Trump announced a U.S. withdrawal from Syria and added that the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Afghanistan “is not over and our mission has not changed.”

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