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Finally, US defeats ISIS in Syria

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ISLAMIC State has been defeated at its final shred of territory of Baghouz in Syria, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Saturday, announcing the end of its self-declared "caliphate" that once spanned a third of Iraq and Syria.

Baghouz has been liberated. The military victory against Daesh has been accomplished

However, British Major General Chris Ghika, the deputy commander of the global coalition's joint task force, has stressed the jihadist group remains a threat - and said British forces will not be scaled back in Syria or Iraq. The SDF declared the "total elimination of (the) so-called caliphate", Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, wrote on Twitter. He wrote, using the Arabic acronym Daesh for ISIS,: ”Baghouz has been liberated. The military victory against Daesh has been accomplished.”

The SDF has been battling to capture Baghouz at the Iraqi border for weeks.

Mr Bali added: "We renew our pledge to continue the war and to pursue their remnants until their complete elimination.”

Though the defeat of ISIS at Baghouz ends the group's grip over the jihadist quasi-state straddling Syria and Iraq that it declared in 2014, it remains a threat.

Some of its fighters still hold out in Syria's remote central desert and in Iraqi cities they have slipped into the shadows, staging sudden shootings or kidnappings and awaiting a chance to rise again.

Fighters of the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in eastern Syria (Image: GETTY)

The United States believes the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is in Iraq. He stood at the pulpit of the great medieval mosque in Mosul in 2014 to declare himself caliph, sovereign over all Muslims.

In its previous guise as an al Qaeda offshoot in Iraq a decade ago, ISIS navigated adversity by going underground, biding its time to rise suddenly again.

After Syria's crisis begins, al-Baghdadi sent operatives there to set up a Syrian subsidiary before moving there himself in 2013, breaking with al Qaeda and renaming his group "The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant".

At the start of 2014, the jihadists seized Fallujah in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria at the turn of the year, before taking Mosul and Tikrit in June and overrunning the border with Syria. At Mosul's great Mosque, Baghdadi renames the group Islamic State (ISIS) and declares a caliphate. 

AN SDF flag atop a building in the Islamic State group's last bastion (Image: GETTY)

The terror group is commonly known as ISIS, although ISIL is also sometimes used, while Daesh is common in Arabic countries.

In Iraq, ISIS slaughtered thousands of Yazidis in Sinjar, forcing more than 7,000 women and girls into sexual slavery, while in Syria, it massacred hundreds of members of the Sheitaat tribe and beheaded Western hostages in horrifying footage uploaded to the internet.

Since suffering devastating territorial losses in 2017, ISIS has steadily turned again to such tactics. Sleeper cells in Iraq have staged a scatter-gun campaign of kidnappings and killings to undermine the Baghdad government.

The group has also carried out many bombings in northeast Syria, which is controlled by US-backed Kurdish forces, including one which killed four Americans in January, shortly after US Vice President Mike Pence had proclaimed ISIS’s defeat. Kurdish and US. officials say it remains a menace there.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is still at large (Image: GETTY)

In Syria, ISIS fighters still have a presence in sparsely populated territory west of the Euphrates River in an area otherwise held by the Syrian government.

The US Pentagon's internal watchdog released a report last month saying Islamic State was regenerating functions and capabilities more quickly in Iraq than Syria.

The report said: ”Absent sustained counterterrorism pressure, ISIS could likely resurge in Syria within six to 12 months and regain limited territory.”

Major General Ghika said the terror organisation is by no means "leaderless or rudderless", despite its loss of physical territory.

He aded: "The US have said they are going to keep a presence in northern Syria so air power will play an important part in that, and we expect the British contribution to keep going on that side.

Major General Christopher Chika has said British forces will remain (Image: GETTY)

"In Iraq exactly the same maxim applies, the British troops that are training the Iraqi security forces are going to stay and keep doing what they are doing because ISIS continues to present a threat and that threat is met largely by the Iraqi security forces."

Speaking last month after a tweet by US President Donald Trump predicting the imminent defeat of the so-caslled caliphate, Michael Kenney, an associate professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh who spent years talking to members of a terror group connected to the London Bridge attack, warned ISIS’s poisonous ideology would not disappear.

He told “For Trump to say ISIS has been defeated and that the US can now leave is ridiculous.

“No counter-terrorism expert believes that - this is just Trumpian rhetoric aimed at firing up his base which few are going to agree with.

“The fact is ISIS has not been defeated. Obviously it is a lot weaker but it still has followers.”

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