The Islamic State’s (ISIS) reign of terror is about to end. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), primarily comprised of Kurdish forces, have cornered the last remnants of the terrorist organization in a small enclave. Baghouz, which is situated close to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, is the last remnant of territory under the ISIS flag. Coalition forces had halted their advance in order to allow civilians—most of whom are family members of ISIS fighters—to exit the besieged enclave, thus minimizing collateral damage once the attack had begun.
“We will launch an attack to end the Daesh (IS) presence or they will turn themselves in. There are no other options for them. We confirm there are no negotiations and no intention to have negotiations,” said Mustafa Bali, the SDF’s spokesperson.
During the previous weeks, SDF forces and coalition’s special operations units have been steadily eating away at ISIS’ last footholds. It has been a slow and bloody fight. In January, for instance, two Special Air Service (SAS) troopers were seriously injured while supporting SDF urban-clearing operations. A subsequent raid by the SAS inflicted heavy losses on ISIS.
It is important to note that ISIS continues to exert control over some pieces of territory, but these are outside the area of operations of the SDF and the U.S.-led international coalition.
Not everyone agrees, however, that ISIS is close to its complete destruction as a functioning terrorist organization. “They are dispersed and disaggregated, but there is leadership, there are fighters there, there are facilitators there,” said General Joseph Votel, the outgoing commander of U.S Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for all military operations in Middle East and some parts of Africa.
General Votel, who has previously commanded the 75th Ranger Regiment, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), and the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), also highlighted the complex and difficult conditions that coalition forces and their SDF partners have been facing during their struggle against ISIS. “I’m very proud of the coalition force team that we have on the ground who’s assisting our Syrian Democratic Force partners in what will be difficult fighting. [They will face] urban terrain, a high density of explosive hazards in the area, and the presence of displaced persons and others who are attempting to depart the area,” he said.
General Votel added that, according to President Trump’s orders, all American troops will leave Syria. He didn’t, however, offer a specific timeline for their departure. The imminent change of command in CENTCOM is certain to further delay the process. General Votel is currently on a farewell tour in the region that is expected to last two weeks.