Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesperson Mustafa Bali said yesterday that declaring victory over ISIS would be premature, one day after President Donald Trump said the terrorist group’s last remaining village was about to be captured.
Speaking to reporters before leaving the White House for a trip to Ohio on Wednesday, Trump displayed two maps showing before-and-after snapshots of ISIS territory. He said: “This is ISIS on election day [pointing to one map, marked with red marks] … when I took it over, it was a mess.” Then he pointed to what he said was a Trump administration map, updated only 20 minutes earlier, with a red mark that indicated one small ISIS-held village on the verge of collapse: “There’s actually a tiny spot which will be gone by tonight.”
On Thursday, the SDF explored the banks of the Euphrates in eastern Syria to smoke out the last fighters preventing the much-delayed announcement of the demise of ISIS. Mustafa Bali on Thursday said: “Our forces are still conducting combing and search operations and as soon as they are finished we will announce the liberation [of Baghouz].”
SDF official Jiaker Amed said yesterday that several ISIS fighters were still in hiding. “We have discovered several hideouts,” he told AFP. “We are monitoring these fighters and if they don’t surrender we will launch a new operation against them,” he added.
For weeks, ISIS fighters have been holding out in Baghouz, which ballooned from the overspill of family members and militants who moved to the village following an SDF offensive along the Euphrates River. Since the SDF launched its assault, more than 66,000 people, mostly civilians, have left, including 37,000 civilians, 5,000 jihadists and around 24,000 of their relatives, according to the SDF.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said another 2,000 women and children had arrived late on Wednesday at the al-Hol camp in north-eastern Syria. The camp is already catering for tens of thousands of people who have poured out of the shrinking ISIS territory.
On Wednesday President Trump said that 400 American troops would remain in Syria, in part to ensure that ISIS does not re-emerge. Last month the Pentagon released a report saying ISIS remained an active insurgent group and was regenerating functions and capabilities in Iraq.