US Military Finally Sets Target Date For "Full Withdrawal" From Syria

Islamic State chief escapes death as his fighters turn on him: report

Up to 600 jihadists could remain inside the area, including many foreign fighters, said Mustafa Bali, SDF spokesman.

"I suggested to my United States counterpart, Mike Pompeo, the idea of establishing a joint task force to coordinate the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, and he agreed to my proposal", said the minister.

The armed group overran large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, but a series of military offensives have reduced that territory to just Baghouz. Shanahan said Monday he plans to discuss the situation this week with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies, including support and security operations that he says are important when shifting away from a significant military operation.

More than 37,000 people, mostly wives and children of jihadist fighters, have fled IS territory since the SDF intensified its offensive in December, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Hundreds of civilians are also believed to be trapped inside one of the last IS territories.

No one knows exactly how many Islamic State fighters are still holding out in the sliver of territory under attack, although they are estimated to be in the hundreds, majority foreign fighters.

Almost 600 ISIS fighters remain inside the two villages that comprise the enclave, and many of them are believed to be foreigners, he said.

The fighting is expected to be over within days, Mr Bali said.

The Britain-based war monitor has said that figure includes some 3,200 suspected jihadis.

The SDF does not usually divulge casualty figures until weeks or months later. The U.S. -backed fighters' advance has been slowed by fierce fighting from the IS militants.

On Monday, the observatory said 13 ISIS militants, including five suicide attackers as well as six SDF fighters were killed.

Fellow combatants carried a coffin draped in the Kurdish colors of red, yellow and green, covered in pink flowers and adorned with a picture of the young woman.

The militants have burrowed beneath the town, building a network of tunnels that allow them to shift from house to house undetected.

IS does still hold another scrap of territory in Syria - and it continues to carry out dozens of attacks - many targeting the SDF. The US has aimed to avert a direct fight (in which the Kurds would face slaughter or certain retreat), but simultaneously to prevent its Kurdish allies on the ground from entering the embrace and protection of Assad.

U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command, cautioned that the exact timing would depend on the situation in Syria, where U.S. -backed fighters have launched a final assault against ISIS enclaves near the Iraqi border.

Trump's surprise announcement in December that he was withdrawing American troops from Syria helped trigger the resignation of his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, and sent US military officials scrambling to construct a withdrawal plan that preserves as many gains as possible.

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