US-backed forces declares victory over Islamic State

Posted at 6:43 AM, Mar 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-23 10:41:06-04

BAGHOUZ, SYRIA – U.S.-backed forces have declared military victory over the Islamic State group in Syria on Saturday.

After liberating the last spot of territory controlled by the militants, Saturday’s victory marks the end of a brutal self-styled caliphate the group carved out in large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

At its height, the Islamic State group ruled a third of both Syria and Iraq, holding millions of people hostage to its harsh and violent interpretation of Islamic law.

After weeks of heavy fighting, the tent camp where the militants made their final stand in the village of Baghouz was bombed to shreds. A field pitted with abandoned trenches and bomb craters, littered with scorched tents and twisted metal pieces of vehicles was all that remained.

“Baghouz is free and the military victory against Daesh has been achieved,” tweeted Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led SDF, referring to IS by its Arabic acronym.

The elimination of the last Islamic State stronghold in Baghouz brings to a close a grueling final battle that stretched across several weeks and saw thousands of people flee the area and surrender in desperation, and hundreds were killed.

The militant’s proto-state, which at its height four years ago was the size of Britain and home to some 8 million people, is now over, but the extremist group still maintains a scattered presence and sleeper cells across Syria and Iraq. It is unknown whether the group’s leaders, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is still alive or where he might be hiding.

The campaign to take back the territory by the U.S. and its partners has spanned nearly five years and two U.S. presidencies unleashed more than 100,000 bombs and killed untold numbers of fighters and civilians.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)