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ISIS holds less than 1 per cent of former ‘Caliphate’

Recent gains by Kurdish-led forces in Syria have shrunk ISIS’s “caliphate” to less than 1 per cent of its original size, the US-led coalition said on Thursday.

British Major-General Christopher Ghika, the coalition’s deputy commander, said gains by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria have shrunk ISIS territory by “approximately 99.5 percent,” adding that ISIS forces “are attempting to escape through intermixing with the innocent women and children attempting to flee the fighting”. The coalition has been training and providing aerial support to the SDF, which launched an offensive on the last patch of ISIS territory in September 2018.

After weeks of advances, the SDF halted their ground assault on ISIS’s tiny remaining enclave near the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria last week, saying ISIS fighters were using civilians as human shields. The SDF has also set up screening centres to check the identity of people leaving ISIS territory. French, British and US forces are also actively looking for wanted ISIS operatives among those fleeing the combat zone.

Speaking at the State Department on Wednesday, US President Donald Trump said that US-led troops and their Kurdish allies should formally announce the end of the “caliphate” sometime next week. “Remnants – that’s all they have, remnants – but remnants can be very dangerous. Rest assured, we’ll do what it takes to defeat every ounce and every last person within the ISIS madness,” he said.

The SDF said on Thursday it arrested 63 jihadist fighters in the Syrian city of Raqa during an operation against militant sleeper cells. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 48 were believed to be ISIS members. Kurdish forces also said British journalist John Cantlie, who was captured by ISIS six years ago, has been kept alive in order to be used as a bargaining chip by ISIS leaders for their own freedom.

The Guardian reported yesterday that ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, survived a coup attempt last month launched by foreign fighters in his eastern Syrian hideout. The incident is believed to have taken place on 10 January in a village near Hajin in the Euphrates River valley.