U.S.-backed forces have claimed military victory over the Islamic State group in Syria after liberating the last pocket of territory held by the militants.
Syrian Democratic Forces have raised flags in Baghouz, the last stronghold of the jihadist group.
The defeat marks the end of a brutal self-styled “caliphate” the group carved out in large parts of Iraq and Syria since 2014.
After weeks of heavy fighting, the tent camp where the militants had made their final stand was bombed to shreds.
A field pitted with abandoned trenches and bomb craters, and littered with scorched tents and metal carcasses of vehicles, was all that remained in Baghouz yesterday.
The elimination of the last Islamic State stronghold brings to a close several weeks of fighting that saw hundreds killed and thousands of people flee the territory and surrender in desperation.
Cornered in Baghouz, the group fought to hang on to the last shred of territory it controlled, using thousands of civilians, including women and children, as human shields. In the final weeks, they fled out of Baghouz into Kurdish-run camps in northern Syria where they are being held.
It spells the end of the militants’ proto-state, which at its height four years ago was the size of Britain and home to some 8 million people. However, despite the loss of territory the extremist group still poses a major global security threat.
IS groups maintain a scattered presence and sleeper cells across Syria and Iraq. It’s not known whether the group’s leader, 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 unleashed more than 100,000 bombs and killed untold numbers of fighters and civilians.
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the SDF’s announcement, saying a “major danger for our country has been eliminated”.
Yesterday journalists in Baghouz reported hearing mortars and gunfire directed toward a cliff overlooking Baghouz, where U.S.-led coalition air strikes were carried out a day earlier. On Saturday, journalists were taken to the encampment in Baghouz.
Ciya Kobani, an SDF commander, announced the end of the operation: “We have been victorious against Daesh,”
At its height, the Islamic State group ruled a third of both Syria and Iraq, holding millions of people hostage to its interpretation of Islamic law. The group carried out massacres and documented them with videos circulated online. It beheaded foreign journalists and aid workers, and burned alive a captured Jordanian pilot. During a rampage through Iraq’s Sinjar region in 2014, it captured thousands of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority and forced them into sexual slavery.
The group also used its “caliphate” as a launchpad for attacks around the world, including the assaults in Paris in 2015 that killed more than 130 people.