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White House declares Islamic state 100 percent defeated in Syria



US-backed forces have pushed the Islamic state out of its final foothold in Syria, the White House said Friday that a long-awaited victory announcement, but killing eyewitness accounts of continuing struggle.

Speaking to journalists aboard Air Force One, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the group's "territorial caliphate has been eliminated in Syria." [19659005] Trump, who made short remarks to journalists after landing in Palm Beach, Fla., Showed reporters a map comparing Iraq and Syria with the height of Islamic state power in 2014.

"That's what we have right now, "he said, indicating areas that were no longer controlled by the militants.

The announcement, more than four years after the United States launched its first airstrikes against the then militant group, follows months of speculation when US-backed Syrian forces would capture the Islamic state's last foothold in eastern Syria.

Neighboring countries in Iraq declared victory over the group in late 2017.

But statements from the White House were immediately contradicted by reports from eyewitnesses and local forces in eastern Syria, where US-backed Syrian democratic forces (SDF) have been fighting to eradicate militant holdouts buried in civilians.

Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the SDF, said the fighting had not been relieved by the village of Baghouz, which has been the site of an intense battle against these holdouts.

"Heavy fighting continues around Mount #Baghouz right now to end what's left of ISIS," he said in a Twitter message. [19659012] An American military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly, said the SDF was still working "to clear the pockets of ISIS from caves under Baghouz."

An official said there seemed to be a few hundred militants back around Baghouz.

Photographs from the area showed that the night sky was illuminated with track rounds.

The militants seemed to be attached along a cliff near the river Euphrates when the Mount desperate final stand.

More than 50,000 people have left the enclave since January, surprisingly military planners who have repeatedly believed that the area is almost empty.

On Thursday, the International Rescue Committee said thousands of civilians could follow in the coming days.

"These women and children are in the worst condition we have seen since the crisis began first," said Wendy Taeuber, the group's Iraqi and Northeast Syria director.

The Pentagon did not immediately give an explanation for the apparent interruption between the White Huss depiction and Eastern Syria reports.

Trump, who has been eager to finish the US military mission in Syria a, has repeatedly suggested in recent months that a final victory was imminent, only to get the fighting on.

In December, Trump made another victory statement when, in a surprise movement, he announced that he would withdraw all 2,000 American troops from Syria.

In the following weeks, the president seemed to return from the victories of victories when top advisers warned that an abrupt departure from Syria would alienate allies and jeopardize gains against the militants.

The Pentagon is now planning to hold at least 400 troops in Syria to help SDF and other allies maintain security in former Islamic citizens.

While a conclusion on the operation would be a milestone for the Pentagon, officials expect the group to try to mount continuing rebellion in Syria as it has in Iraq.

Sanders said that Trump had been briefed during his flight by performing defense secretary Patrick Shanahan.

Shanahan joins Trump on his exclusive Mar-a-Lago resort when the president is considering nominating the former Boeing chief to the top Pentagon job.

It was not immediately clear whether Shanahan conveyed to Trump that the Islamic state had been expelled from Baghouz, or whether Trump or Shanahan were aware of the assessment by Syrian and American forces in the region.

Loveluck reported from London. John Wagner in Washington contributed to this report.


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