The US Defense Department said on Friday that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) no longer holds any territory in Syria, according to a White House spokeswoman.
US Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan briefed President Donald Trump as he was travelling to Florida on Air Force One, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
She said that the “territorial caliphate has been eliminated in Syria”. Responding to a question regarding whether the armed group’s territory had be “100 percent” eliminated, Sanders said “yes”.
She directed other questions regarding the announcement to the Pentagon.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has not commented on the White House’s announcement.
Earlier on Friday, the SDF said it had captured most of ISIL’s last enclave in Baghouz, but there were still pockets of ISIL fighters.
The SDF has been battling for weeks to defeat ISIL in Baghouz in southeastern Syria at the Iraqi border. It was all that remained of the territory the armed group ruled, which once spanned a third of Syria and Iraq.
A Reuters journalist in Baghouz heard air strikes there on Friday afternoon and saw smoke rising.
‘ISIL not gone’
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Washington, DC, said that difficulty, however, is that “ISIL hasn’t gone away and everyone knows that”.
“Trump will undoubtedly get the victory that he wanted … but the group hasn’t gone away,” Fisher said.
Shortly after Sanders made the comments to reporters, Trump tweeted, “ISIS uses the internet better than almost anyone, but for all of those susceptible to ISIS propaganda, they are now being beaten badly at every level.”
Trump had been teasing Friday’s announcement for days. On Wednesday, he said the group would be “gone by tonight”, showing reporters two maps that he claimed to show the reduction of ISIL’s territory since he was elected president in 2016.
In December, Trump unexpectedly announced that he was pulling all 2,000 American troops out of Syria, declaring that ISIL had been defeated.
He walked back on that announcement, however, as military generals and politicians expressed fear that such a move would allow the group to re-emerge. He was then persuaded to leave about 400 troops in Syria.