PALM SPRINGS, Fla. (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that U.S.-backed forces had dislodged the Islamic State militant group from its last holdout in Syria.
“Here’s ISIS on Election Day. And here’s ISIS right now,” Trump said, using the acronym for the group, as he displayed a before-and-after map to reporters, with the “before” portion full of red dots and the after-map empty.
“You guys can have the map. Congratulations,” Trump said. “I think it’s about time.” The president has previously displayed a map illustrating the diminution of Islamic State.
Trump has said Islamic State no longer holds territory several times over the past few weeks. But U.S. officials told Reuters that fighting still continued late into Thursday between U.S.-backed forces and Islamic State militants in the last remaining territory it holds.
Earlier on Friday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters Islamic State no longer held any territory in Syria and that U.S. acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan had briefed the president on the milestone as he was traveling to Florida on Air Force One.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) battled Islamic State militants holed up in the Baghouz area overnight, supported by U.S.-led coalition air strikes, the SDF said, seeking to defeat the last pockets of jihadist resistance.
The SDF has been battling for weeks to defeat Islamic State in the Baghouz enclave in southeastern Syria at the Iraqi border, all that remained of the territory the militants ruled, which once spanned a third of Syria and Iraq.
While the U.S.-backed SDF has captured most of the area, Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, told Reuters SDF fighters were clashing late on Thursday with IS militants in more than two positions where they were refusing to surrender.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Idrees Ali; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Mary Milliken and Jonathan Oatis)