United States to pull forces out of Syria by end of April

Erika Holt
February 10, 2019

The coalition has been training and providing air support to the Syrian Democratic Forces, which launched an offensive on the last pocket of jihadist territory in September 2018.

The enclave, close to the Iraqi border, comprises two villages.

SDF official Mustafa Bali, speaking to Reuters, described the assault as "the last battle".

The battle is aimed at regaining control of Al-Baghuz in the east of Syria, on the border with Iraq.

He later wrote on Twitter that the battle had started and the enclave would "be cleared soon".

The SDF had handled the last 10 days "patiently" as more than 20,000 civilians were evacuated from the besieged IS enclave, Bali said. But the group lost its two main prizes - the Syrian city of Raqqa and Iraq's Mosul - in 2017.

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Four years ago, the militants controlled territory the size of Britain and millions of people, but Major General Christopher Ghika, the deputy commander of the United States coalition fighting the group, on Thursday said that "now less than one percent of the original caliphate" remains.

The SDF, spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, has driven ISIS out of a swathe of territory in northern and eastern Syria over the last four years.

After capturing Raqqa, the SDF advanced southwards into Deir al-Zor province, attacking the jihadists in territory on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River.

U.S. officials have said in recent weeks that IS has lost 99.5 percent of its territory and is holding onto fewer than five square kilometers in Syria, or less than two square miles, where the bulk of the fighters are concentrated.

Merkel's remarks, which came at the inauguration of the Berlin headquarters of Germany's foreign intelligence agency BND, contradict statements by US President Donald Trump that the Islamist group has been defeated. (AP) The US military is reportedly planning to withdraw all US forces from Syria towards the end of April.

Citing former and current USA officials, the newspaper reported that unless the Trump administration changed course, the military plans to pull a significant portion of its 2,000 troops out by mid-March, with a full withdrawal coming by the end of April. The withdrawal would also include troops deployed at the USA military base at Tanf, near the Syrian border with Iraq and Jordan, they said.

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