Donald Trump says ISIS loses last territory but official declaration still to come

The US president made his remarks to American soldiers but there has not been a specific declaration

U.S. President Donald Trump thrusts his fist towards members of the U.S. military after addressing them during a refueling stop at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S., February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

American-backed forces have retaken 100 per cent of the territory once held by ISIS, United States President Donald Trump told soldiers on Thursday evening but the official announcement that the militant group’s once vast self-styled state has been recaptured is yet to come.

Despite the president’s remarks, the international coalition against ISIS has made no such claim that all of ISIS’s territory has been retaken.

“We just took over, you know you keep hearing it was 90 per cent, 92 per cent, the caliphate in Syria. Now it’s 100 per cent we just took over, 100 per cent caliphate,” Mr Trump said in remarks to soldiers at Joint Base Elmendorf in Alaska.

Earlier in the day, the head of the Syrian Democratic Forces, Mazloum Kobani, said in a video that they would announce the fall of ISIS’s last territory within a week.

There has been a lull in fighting as ISIS still has large numbers of civilians in the small pocket of open ground outside the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz.

Tens of thousands of people have fled the final pocket in recent days and the displacement camp of Al Hol several hours from the front lines is now home to some 40,000 women and children who once lived under ISIS rule. While many are likely to be the wives and family of ISIS fighters, many are also those who have been kidnapped by the group or civilians.

On Thursday, Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the SDF, shared an image of 15-year-old Yazidi boy Jabar Khalil who had been rescued from the last pocket of ISIS control on Thursday. He said the boy was looking forward to being able to return to his family.

ISIS took thousands of Yazidis hostage when they stormed Iraq in 2014. Mass graves have been uncovered showing that thousands were executed in the aftermath and many women and young girls were taken as slaves.

The ISIS so called state, declared from the historic AL Nuri mosque in Iraq’s Mosul after the militants poured over the border and seized swaths of Iraq to add to the vast tracts they controlled in Syria, has taken years for the international coalition to roll back.

But now in its final stand, many are already looking forward to what comes next.

Few are under the illusion that the terror group has been wiped out – thousands of former members and fighters remain – and the group’s core ideology and support is still there.

There has been an uptick in hit and run attacks in parts of Syria and Iraq where ISIS sleeper cells are thought to operate.

There is a concern among experts that without sustained pressure, the group may make a deadly resurgence.

In December, Mr Trump announced that he was withdrawing US soldiers form Syria and that the fight was done. Although US officials tried to sell the news as a tactical not a strategic shift, allies – including the SDF – expressed concern at the news.

Analysts warned that without a US footprint inside Syria, the operation against ISIS would be less effective.

Then the US said it would keep some 400 soldiers on the ground in eastern and northern Syria to ensure the continuation of the operation.