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US-backed force declares victory over IS in Syria

March 23, 2019

US-backed Kurdish forces say they have liberated the last enclave held by "Islamic State" militants in eastern Syria. But Germany's foreign minister warned the world not to celebrate too soon.

Syrian soldiers in Baghouz
Image: Reuters/Stringer

The US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Saturday declared victory against the "Islamic State" (IS), saying they had flushed the jihadists from their last remaining stronghold in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz.

The announcement marks the end of the terror group's self-proclaimed caliphate, which at its height in 2014 covered large swathes of Syria and Iraq.

Read more'Islamic State' loses significant camp in final holdout territory Baghouz

Victory in Baghouz

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali announced the victory on Twitter:

  • "Baghouz has been liberated. The military victory against Daesh has been accomplished," he said, referring to IS by its acronym in Arabic.  
  • The SDF declares "total elimination" of the so-called caliphate and "100 percent territorial defeat of ISIS."
  • "On this unique day, we commemorate thousands of martyrs whose efforts made the victory possible."

Read moreOpinion: 'Islamic State' may fall, but will not vanish

A map showing Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey

Celebration and caution

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas praised the international anti-IS coalition and "courageous local partners" for defeating the jihadist group, but said IS remained an "underground threat."

Prime Minister Theresa May said IS' defeat marked "a historic milestone."

French President Emmanuel Macron said France was safer, but warned that "the fight against terrorist groups must continue."

US President Donald Trump hailed the end of the IS caliphate, but promised that the US would remain "vigilant" in fighting the group.

German troops trained local fighters as part of the anti-IS coalition
German troops trained local fighters as part of the anti-IS coalitionImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

Read moreAs IS crumbles, Syrian Kurds want Germany to take back foreign fighters

IS still a threat: Despite the loss of territory, IS is still seen as a major security threat, with offshoots in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Yemen, and supporters in Western countries willing to carry out attacks.

Rise and fall: The militants captured Iraq's Fallujah and Mosul and Syria's Raqqa during a lightning advance in 2014. In 2017, they suffered major defeats and were driven to Baghouz.

Where did IS come from? IS began as a faction within al-Qaida in Iraq but split off after the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011.

Read moreNadia Murad: One woman's fight against Islamic State

Brutal caliphate: IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the caliphate in June 2014. At its height, the group imposed its brutal interpretation of Islamic law on millions of people.

When did the battle begin? SDF forces launched an attack on Baghouz in early March. In recent weeks, tens of thousands of civilians and surrendering fighters fled to escape US-led airstrikes.

What is the SDF? It's a coalition of armed Kurdish groups allied with the US. They captured much of the Syrian territory once held by the extremists, including Raqqa.

Read moreSyria's SDF launches endgame battle against 'Islamic State' 

nm/amp (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)