Backed forces move to capture final Islamic State territory in Syria

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Major-General Christopher Ghika, the coalition's deputy commander, on Thursday described the size of the last ISIS pocket as "now less than 1 per cent of the original caliphate".

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Saturday that a "final battle" against the Islamic State group in eastern Syria has started. He did not say how long they expect the battle to last.

"At some point, we make political progress, or they're going to have to tell the military to slow down, or we're going to proceed without a political process".

Thus, for all practical purposes, it appears the withdrawal of American troops from Syria will be limited to Manbij and Kobani in northern Syria and Qamishli and al-Hasakah in northeastern Syria in order to address the concerns of Washington's NATO-ally Turkey pertaining to the Kurdish militias which Ankara regards as "terrorists", and the fate of USA forces operating alongside Kurds in Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria and al-Tanf military base in particular is still in doubt.

The Kurds, who have de facto autonomy in northeastern Syria, are also engaged in behind-the-scenes diplomatic talks over the fate of the region.

According to Reuters, the United States said on January 29 that ISIS was expected to lose the final chunk of territory within a couple of weeks.

US President Donald Trump suggested last Wednesday that ISIS's defeat was imminent, adding that a formal announcement declaring "100% of the caliphate" retaken would be made sometime in the coming week.

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The SDF, backed by the US-led coalition, has defeated ISIS across a swathe of northern and eastern Syria in recent months, reducing its once expansive caliphate to a fraction of its peak size. "It is transforming into an asymmetrical warfare force". An SDF statement said the offensive was focused on the village of Baghuz.

A fighters from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as a grim battle takes place for the last ISIS-held enclave in Syria.

The Observatory says that suspected IS sleeper cells have allegedly assassinated at least 50 civilians and 135 SDF fighters in Kurdish-held territory since August.

Bali said there could be up to 600 IS fighters still inside the pocket, majority foreigners.

The SDF holds hundreds of foreigners accused of belonging to the extremist group in its custody, as well as members of their families.

Relatives at home fear alleged foreign jihadists may end up facing tough justice in Iraq, where Human Rights Watch warned they could face "torture and unfair trials". "That's why we speak for Syria returning to the Arab League as soon as possible", the diplomat stressed. "There's been a total lack of transparency, and bad things happen in the dark", HRW's counterterrorism director, Nadim Houry, told AFP.

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