The final offensive to liberate land held by the Islamic State reportedly ended on Thursday with the last stronghold taken by the U.S. and its allies.
Fox News’ Benjamin Hall, who has been reporting from the front lines in eastern Syria, learned the village of Baghouz near the Iraq border — which was the final ISIS stronghold — has been liberated.
“It’s the first time since we’ve been here in Syria for five days that the bombs have stopped dropping and the gunfire has disappeared. We have witnessed the end of the caliphate – the brutal empire that once ruled over 8 million people – is gone,” Hall wrote.
According to the correspondent, none of the main surviving ISIS leaders was caught in Baghouz, but they are believed to have escaped to prepare for an insurgency.
— AFP news agency (@AFP) March 5, 2019
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump predicted that the caliphate’s demise would occur that night.
Using two maps depicting in red ISIS held territory on election night in November 2016 and compared to now, he said, “When I took it over, it was a mess.”
President Trump: “This is a map of everything in the red. This was on election night. In 2016 everything red is ISIS. What I took it over it was a mess. Now on the bottom, that’s the exact same — there is no red.” https://t.co/8Omkx2UzUC pic.twitter.com/0ILsueCY1w
— The Hill (@thehill) March 21, 2019
“Now, on the bottom, there is no red. In fact, there’s actually a tiny spot which will be gone by tonight,” he said.
“This just came out 20 minutes ago,” Trump added. “So this is ISIS on Election Day, my election day, and this is ISIS now. So that’s the way it goes.”
While testifying before Congress earlier this month, the outgoing head of U.S. Central Command warned the United States and its allies cannot afford to let their guard down, despite ISIS’ string of defeats on the battlefield.
“Reduction of the physical caliphate is a monumental military accomplishment but the fight against ISIS and violent extremism is far from over,” Gen. Joseph Votel told the House Armed Services Committee.
At that time, the general noted that the organization’s territory has shrunk from 34,000 square miles at the height of its power to an area of less than a square mile in the town of Baghouz, located near Syria’s border with Iraq.
“What we are seeing now is not the surrender of ISIS as an organization but a calculated decision to preserve the safety of their families and preservation of their capabilities by taking their chances in camps for internally displaced persons and going to ground in remote areas and waiting for the right time to resurge,” Votel said.
“The ISIS population being evacuated from the remaining vestiges of the caliphate largely remains unrepentant, unbroken and radicalized,” he added, based on observations from U.S. troops on the ground in Syria.
The Pentagon estimates there are between 10,000 and 20,000 Islamic State fighters left in Iraq and Syria who have gone to ground and are preparing to fight an extended insurgency.
— MOHAMMED HASSAN (@MHJournalist) March 18, 2019
Trump said Wednesday that he plans to leave 400 U.S. troops in Syria, with 200 located closer to the border with Israel where Iranian-backed forces have been active, The Hill reported.
According to Hall, Syrian Democratic Forces are grateful to the U.S. not just for helping bring about ISIS’ defeat on the battlefield, but for leaving troops on the ground to help stabilize the region.
There are currently believed to be about 1,000 U.S. soldiers in Syria.
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