DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – Islamic State faced final territorial defeat on Saturday as the U.S.-backed Syrian force battling the jihadists said it was closing in on their last bastion near the Iraqi border, capping four years of efforts to roll back the group.
“We expect it to be over soon,” Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) told Reuters.
While the fall of Baghouz, an eastern Syrian village on the bank of the Euphrates River, would mark a milestone in the campaign against the jihadists, they remain a threat, using guerrilla tactics and holding some desolate land further west.
An array of enemies, both local and international, confronted Islamic State (IS) after it declared a modern-day “caliphate” in 2014 across large swathes of territory it had seized in Syria and neighboring Iraq.
Thousands of IS followers and fighters, who had retreated to Baghouz as the group was gradually driven out of those lands, have poured out of the tiny cluster of hamlets and farmlands in Deir al-Zor province over the last few weeks.
Their evacuation held up the final assault until Friday evening when the SDF said it had advanced and would not stop until the jihadists were defeated.
Bali told Reuters on Saturday that the SDF were advancing on two fronts using medium and heavy weaponry. Three SDF fighters had been wounded so far, he added.
Reporting by Ellen Francis; Writing by Stephen Kalin/Tom Perry; Editing by Kim Coghill and Alexander Smith