Following repeated false claims of victory, the US-backed Kurdish Syrian
Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Saturday that they are formally
declaring ISIS to be “100% territorially defeated,” with the final capture of Baghouz, in Syria’s far east.
This comes after several years of fighting against ISIS, and nearly three months of fighting just over the tiny village of Baghouz. SDF officials are talking about the victory, but at the same time concede that there may be, and most likely are, ISIS remnant fighters in the desert.
ISIS spokesman Abu Hassan al-Muhajir has issued an audio recording anticipating the fall of Baghouz, insisting that the “caliphate” is not finished, despite having lost all of their territory. Some US officials are estimated 15,000 to 20,000 armed ISIS fighters could remain in the region.
But the fall of the last ISIS territory is still significant. ISIS lost their last Iraqi territory in 2017, and have now lost any meaningful territory in Syria. Though their fighters are believed to be in the desert areas on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border, it is unclear how they will manage without any towns.
It has always been expected that the loss of all territory would mean ISIS converting from a de facto state back into an insurgency. How effectively they will do this remains to be seen, but the group has shown an ability to adapt in different stages of the war.
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