Trump claims 100 percent of IS territory captured, contradicting Syrian opposition forces
US President Donald Trump claimed on Thursday that the Islamic State group has now lost 100 percent of the territory it once controlled in Syria, contradicting the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who have led the battle to push IS out of its remaining strongholds.
"We just took over, you know, you kept hearing it was 90 percent, 92 percent, the caliphate in Syria. Now it's 100 percent we just took over, 100 percent caliphate," Trump told troops at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson during a refueling stop in Alaska on his way back from talks with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam, Reuters reported.
The president's statement contradicts the accounts of Syrians who say hundreds of IS fighters remain in Baghouz, a village in eastern Syria, and that many have refused to surrender. Some IS militants also remain in the vast Badia desert of southern Syria.
Victory would be declared over IS in Baghouz in "in the next few days", said Kurdish foreign affairs official Abdel Karim Omar on Monday.
However, the SDF's offensive on the last IS stronghold as slowed while Kurdish forces struggle to cope with the thousands of civilians who have flooded out of the territory in recent weeks.
The exodus of IS-affiliated women and children, as well as captured Yazidi civilians, from the village has caused the population of the al-Hol refugee camp in northern Syria to swell to more than 50,000.
The SDF said on Thursday it was prepared to begin its final assault on the extremist group once civilian evacuations are complete.
"More than 600 civilians along with a large number of fighters who surrendered to the SDF were evacuated from Baghouz today. SDF is predicting about a couple of thousands of civilians are still inside and to be evacuated, which [will not take] less than one week," YPG spokesperson Zana Amedi tweeted on Thursday.
"Judging by what we're told by people fled, ISIS is not simply laying down arms and surrendering. Instead they’re preparing to make a last stand which is making it harder to predict a quick ending."
Trump has been anxious to claim a final victory over IS in Syria since announcing in December that US troops would withdraw from the country, a decision which prompted much criticism from the Kurdish-led SDF, who say the withdrawal will leave them prone to a Turkish onslaught which could facilitate the escape of IS fighters.
Although the US plans to remove its 2,000 troops from Syria by April 30, the Trump administration announced last week that a small "peace-keeping" force of around 200 troops would remain.
Pentagon officials have cautioned that much remains to be done in Syria to ensure that IS does not regroup.