The US-backed fighters in Syria have declared military victory over ISIS on Saturday, ending a four-year battle against the group that once held territory spanning a third of Syria and Iraq.
After weeks of heavy fighting, the tent camp where the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) fighters) had made their final stand in the village of Baghouz was bombed to shreds.
A field pitted with abandoned trenches and bomb craters and littered with scorched tents and the twisted metal carcasses of vehicles was all that remained.
The world’s most wanted man Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who declared himself the tyrant of the regime in 2014, was apparently not among their number.
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) March 23, 2019
Half buried in the dirt was a tattered shred of ISIL’s notorious black flag, while a giant yellow flag belonging to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fluttered atop a shell-pocked building.
The coalition of Kurdish and Arab soldiers backed by US, British and French special forces said it defeated ISIS and fully liberated Baghouz in eastern Syria.
“Syrian Democratic Forces declare total elimination of so-called caliphate and 100% territorial defeat of ISIS. On this unique day, we commemorate thousands of martyrs whose efforts made the victory possible,” tweeted Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF press office.
In a paper statement issued at a formal ceremony to mark ISIS’ defeat, the SDF said it had lost 11,000 “forces, leaders and fighters” battling the militant group. But it vowed to continue the fight against any elements of ISIS sleeper cells, which “still pose a great danger on our region and the whole world.”
Ending weeks of combat, the US-backed Syrian forces raised a yellow flag atop a building in the town as they celebrated the victory over ISIS.
“Baghouz is free and the military victory against Daesh has been achieved,” tweeted Mustafa Bali, a spokesperson for the Kurdish-led SDF, referring to ISIL by its Arabic acronym.
The elimination of the last stronghold in Baghouz brings to a close a gruelling final battle that stretched across several weeks and saw thousands of people flee the territory and surrender in desperation, and hundreds killed.
It is not known whether the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is still alive or where he might be hiding.
It spells the end of the ISIL group’s so-called caliphate, which at its height four years ago was home to some 8 million people, but the group still maintains a scattered presence and sleeper cells across Syria and Iraq.
The campaign to take back the territory by the US and its partners has spanned nearly five years and unleashed more than 100,000 bombs and killed untold numbers of fighters and civilians.