A Syrian Democratic Forces flag flutters on a damaged building in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria, Saturday. Reuters
BAGHOUZ (Syria): Kurdish-led forces pronounced the death of the Daesh group's nearly five-year-old "caliphate" Saturday after flushing out diehard militants from their very last bastion in eastern Syria.
Fighters of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces raised their yellow flag in Baghouz, the remote riverside village where diehard militants of a variety of nationalities made a desperate, dramatic last stand.
The SDF's victory capped a painstaking six-month operation and will go down as a symbolic date in a war that changed the face of the region and spurred a spate of global terror attacks.
A female fighter of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) flashes the victory gesture while celebrating near the Omar oil field in the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province on Saturday. Delil Souleiman / AFP
"Syrian Democratic Forces declare total elimination of so-called caliphate and 100 percent territorial defeat of ISIS," spokesman Mustefa Bali said in a statement, using another acronym for Daesh.
The state proclaimed in mid-2014 by fugitive Daesh supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi started collapsing in 2017 when parallel offensives in Iraq and Syria wrested back its main hubs of Raqa and Mosul.
The nearly five years of fighting against the most brutal militant group in modern history left thousand-year-old cities in ruins and populations homeless.
The territory administered by the remnants of Daesh continued to shrink month after month and in September 2018 the SDF launched a final offensive on the last dregs of the "caliphate" in its Euphrates Valley strongholds.
"Syrian Democratic Forces declare total elimination of so-called caliphate and 100 per cent territorial defeat of ISIS
Kurdish officers and aid groups were flummoxed by the number of people who had remained holed up in the last Daesh redoubt of Baghouz, a small village even few Syrians had ever heard of until this year.
As SDF forces pummelled Daesh positions and US warplanes dropped huge payloads on the riverside village, tens of thousands of people fled over a rocky hill and trudged through the plains in biblical scenes.
For weeks, the ghostly figures of the caliphate's last denizens hobbled out of the besieged village, famished, often wounded but sometimes still defiantly proclaiming their support for Daesh.
The Kurdish-led force and foreign intelligence screened more than 60,000 people since January, around 10 per cent of them militants turning themselves in.
Most of the people evacuated from the smouldering ruins of Baghouz in recent days were relatives of Daesh members who now fill overcrowded camps further north in Syria's Kurdish-controlled region.
The biggest of them, Al-Hol, is now struggling to host 74,000 people, including at least 25,000 school-aged children.
Among them are thousands of foreigners from France, Russia, Belgium and 40-plus countries that are in most cases unwilling to take them back.
"The needs are huge and the camp is overwhelmed," Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday upon returning from a five-day visit to Syria.
"The needs are huge and the camp is overwhelmed
While the SDF taking Baghouz marks the end of the Daesh "caliphate", the militants still retain a presence in eastern Syria's vast Badia desert.
They also have hideouts in parts of Iraq as well as sleeper cells capable of carrying out the kind of deadly guerrilla insurgency that accompanied the rise of the Daesh group.
Daesh fighters who escaped the shrinking rump of the "caliphate" in time and reorganised their group are already re-establishing their former sanctuaries in Iraq, the Institute for the Study of War said.
Even the Pentagon has warned in a recent report that the absence of sustained counterterrorism pressure on Daesh would allow the militants to reclaim some territorial control within months.
US President Donald Trump showed off maps that illustrate the dramatic shrinking of territory held by the militant group in the period from his election in 2016 and now.
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