IS fighters surrender in Syria

‘The ISIS threat will remain,’ John Bolton says

The militant group's most hardened foreign fighters are holed up inside the enclave, the SDF has said. "Fighting is still continuing".

The collapse of Islamic State's territorial rule comes at a pivotal point in the wider eight year multi-sided Syrian civil war, with President Bashar al-Assad's government having also recaptured most territory from rebels that tried to topple him.

Part of Baghouz, a small cluster of houses and tents on the banks of the Euphrates, not far from the borders with Iraq, is today what remains of what was once called the "Caliphate" and which had occupied half of the territory of Syria and Iraq.

Gen. Joseph Votel, the top USA general overseeing military operations in the Middle East, told the House Armed Services Committee last week the fight against ISIS is "far from over" despite their losses in territory.

No Islamic State leaders are believed to be in Baghouz, according to a US defence official.

In covering Assad's remarks, AFP notes that the US has moved to stem petroleum shipping to Syria, and that major oil and gas fields remain out of the government's control in the northeast of the country, contributing to the hardship that the Syrian population is suffering.

The group still operates in remote territory elsewhere and it is widely assessed that it will continue to represent a potent security threat.

The defeat of Daesh at Baghouz will mark a milestone in the campaign against the jihadist group, ending its control of populated territory in the area straddling Iraq and Syria where it suddenly expanded in 2014 and declared a caliphate.

Three SDF fighters have been killed, Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, said on Twitter.

The last pocket of IS territory in eastern Syria
The last pocket of IS territory in eastern Syria

Live footage broadcast by Kurdish Ronahi TV showed a series of large blasts lighting up the night sky over Baghouz.

The official said jihadists were using suicide bombers but his force intercepted them before they reached their target.

The SDF has been pounding the town with airstrikes and mortar fire, with the aim of "terrorizing" Islamic State fighters and driving civilians out of Baghouz.

Clashes continued Wednesday morning as the SDF worked to thwart an IS counterattack launched in the early hours of the day, he said.

However the United States does not believe any senior Islamic State leaders are in Baghouz, assessing they have gone elsewhere as part of the group's shift toward guerrilla tactics, a USA defense official has said.

ISIS is facing an imminent defeat in its final enclave, as hundreds of militant fighters and their families surrendered and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said the battle was as good as over on Tuesday. "Three Yazidi women and four children were rescued, too", he added.

"If we had thousands of kilometers and now we only have some kilometers left, it is said we have lost - but God's judging standard is different", said a man named Abu Abdel Adheem in the video.

The Russian defence ministry said they targeted a weapons store by Tahrir al Sham where it said the jihadists planned a drone attack on a Russian air base near the Mediterranean.

Russian warplanes struck for the first time in months the centre of Idlib city, including a hospital and a prison on the outskirts from which dozens of inmates fled, residents said.

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