Daesh (Islamic State) has been defeated at its final shred of territory of Baghouz in Syria, the U.S.-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.
The SDF declared the “total elimination of (the) so-called caliphate”, Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, wrote on Twitter.
“Baghouz has been liberated. The military victory against Daesh has been accomplished,” he wrote.
The SDF has been battling to capture Baghouz at the Iraqi border for weeks.
Daesh is an Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “We renew our pledge to continue the war and to pursue their remnants until their complete elimination,” he wrote.
Though the defeat of Islamic State 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.
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.
Further afield, jihadists in Afghanistan, Nigeria and elsewhere have shown no sign of recanting their allegiance to Islamic State, and intelligence services say its devotees in the West might plot new attacks.
The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja’afari, said on Friday Islamic State was not yet finished in Syria, adding that it was the Damascus government backed by Russia and Iran that was genuinely battling it, not the United States.
Still, the fall of Baghouz is a big milestone in a fight against the jihadist group waged by numerous local and global forces - some of them sworn enemies - over more than four years.
It also marks a big moment in Syria’s eight-year war, wiping out the territory of one of the main contestants, with the rest split between President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey-backed rebels and the Kurdish-led SDF.