Damascus, March 23 (IANS) The Islamic State (IS) has lost its last stronghold in Syria, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Saturday, bringing an end to the so-called caliphate declared by the terror group in 2014.
The SDF said it defeated the IS and fully liberated Baghouz in eastern Syria, reports CNN.
“Syrian Democratic Forces declare total elimination of the so-called caliphate and 100 per cent territorial defeat of IS. On this unique day, we commemorate thousands of martyrs whose efforts made the victory possible,” tweeted Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF press office.
At its peak, the IS controlled a huge stretch of territory stretching from western Syria to the outskirts of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
But the final battle took place in the past several weeks around the small and otherwise unremarkable Syrian town of Baghouz, on the banks of the Euphrates River.
A coalition of Kurdish and Arab soldiers backed by the US, British and French special forces launched the last assault in Baghouz early last month.
For weeks, US-led coalition airstrikes had pummelled parts of the town while fighters from the SDF pushed forward on the ground.
Before the offensive started, SDF officials estimated that 1,500 civilians and 500 IS fighters remained, but as the assault got under way it became clear that the actual number was much higher.
The final phase of the battle was delayed to allow thousands more civilians to get out of of the besieged town.
The militants who mounted the last stand in Baghouz included some of the most battle-hardened and experienced personnel remaining in the IS, and the wives and children of the fighters were used as human shields.
SDF commanders told CNN that its fighters had faced fierce resistance from the terror group, which slowed the offensive with snipers, improvised explosive devices.
The militants had also dug a network of underground tunnels that allowed them to move from house to house undetected.
At the group’s height, 7.7 million people were estimated to live under IS rule. Despite the loss of territory and funds, a UN-monitoring committee estimated last July that IS membership in Iraq and Syria was still between 20,000 and 30,000.
In total, 41,490 international citizens travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the IS.