IS ‘caliphate’ on brink of defeat as Trump urges Europe to take foreign fighters home

US President Donald J. Trump reacts as he leaves after speaking about a 328 billion USD (290.7 billion euro) spending bill to prevent another government shutdown at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 15 February 2019. [Erik S. Lesser/EPA/EFE]

US-backed fighters in Syria are poised to capture Islamic State’s last, tiny enclave on the Euphrates, the battle commander said on Saturday (16 February), bringing its self-declared caliphate to the brink of total defeat as US President Donald Trump spoke of “100 percent victory”.

Jiya Furat said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had cornered the remaining militants in a neighbourhood of Baghouz village near the Iraqi border, under fire from all sides.

“In the coming few days, in a very short time, we will spread the good tidings to the world of the military end of Daesh,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Trump said on Saturday the caliphate was “ready to fall and that the United States was asking European allies to take back more than 800 Islamic State fighters captured in Syria and put them on trial.

“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” he said in a Tweet. “The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them…

“….The US does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go. We do so much, and spend so much – Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!”

Trump has sworn to pull US forces from Syria, following the Islamic State’s territorial defeat, raising questions over the fate of Washington’s Kurdish allies and Turkish involvement in northeastern Syria.

As the SDF advanced under heavy US airstrikes in recent days, a stream of civilians fled the few square miles of hamlets and farmland that remain within Islamic State’s ‘caliphate’, along with defeated jihadists trying to escape unnoticed.

Though Islamic State fighters still hold out in a pocket of central Syria’s remote desert, and have gone underground as sleeper cells in Iraqi cities, able to launch new attacks, their territorial rule is, for now, almost over.

It ends a project launched from the great medieval mosque of Mosul in northern Iraq in 2014, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seized advantage of regional chaos to proclaim himself caliph.

He set up a governing system with courts, a currency and a flag that at its height stretched from northwest Syria almost to Baghdad, encompassing some two million inhabitants.

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