WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — All Islamic State-held territory in Syria has been"100 percent" eliminated, the White House announced Friday, though officials said sporadic fighting continues on the ground between coalition forces and the group's holdouts.
The complete fall of the last IS stronghold in Baghouz, Syria, would the end of the Islamic State group's self-declared caliphate, which at its height stretched across large parts of Syria and Iraq. Controlling territory gave it room to launch attacks around the world.
President Donald Trump said Friday "it's about time" that the group no longer controls territory in the region, after a campaign by U.S. and coalition forces that spanned five years and two U.S. presidencies, unleashed more than 100,000 bombs, and killed untold numbers of civilians.
U.S. officials familiar with the situation in Syria said again Friday that the Syrian Democratic Forces are still battling the last remaining IS fighters who are holed up in tunnels along the river cliffs in Baghouz and have refused to surrender.
Officials said that the SDF has not announced any declaration of victory, and there was no announcement planned for Friday.
According to the officials, the SDF is moving slowly and carefully, and is willing to wait out the IS fighters who are out of food and low on water. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss mission details.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One that Trump was briefed about the development by acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan
Trump showed reporters a map of Iraq and Syria that showed that the terror group no longer controlled any territory in the region. "Here's ISIS on election day," he said, pointing to a swath of red area signifying the group's previous territorial gains, and then to one without any red, "Here's ISIS right now."
Trump has been teasing the victory for days, most recently Wednesday when he said the milestone would be achieved by that night, but sleeper cells of fighters have re-emerged.