ISIS final battle: SDF to start offensive against last ISIS fighters


US -backed and Kurdish-led Syrian forces said Saturday they have launched a final push to defeat the Islamic State group in the last tiny pocket the extremists hold in eastern Syria.

Following the evacuation of more than 20,000 civilians from the town of Baghouz in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zour Province, the SDF started the night operation against the last ISIL-held pocket in the eastern Euphrates region, according to Mustafa Balli, head of the SDF media office.

Citing former and current USA officials, the newspaper reported on Thursday that unless the Trump administration changed course, the Pentagon plans to pull a significant portion of its 2,000 troops out by mid-March, with a full withdrawal coming by the end of April.

The SDF, backed by U.S. air power, has driven Isis from large swaths of territory it once controlled in northern and eastern Syria, confining the extremists to a small pocket of land near the border with Iraq.

In December, Trump declared victory over the Islamic State terror group in war-torn Syria and announced that American forces would be "coming home soon", sparking concern among officials in Washington and allies overseas.

This is a developing story.

The enclave is close to the Iraqi border and comprises two villages, though Islamic State (IS) also still has territory in the part of Syria that is mostly under the control of the Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian government.

The deputy commander of the US-led coalition fighting the group, Major General Christopher Ghika, described the size of the last IS pocket as "now less than one percent of the original caliphate".

A total of three civilians were killed Saturday by a US -led airstrike on the Islamic State (IS)-held area in eastern Syria, state news agency SANA reported.

Trump said in December he was pulling all 2,000 US troops out of Syria, saying the battle against Islamic State there was nearly won.

In that time, more than 1,200 IS militants, more than 670 SDF fighters, and around 400 civilians have been killed in the fighting, the Observatory says.

At least 48 suspected ISIS members were among them, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Bali did not say how long they expect the battle to last.

Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is believed to have fled an attempted coup by fighters within his own group last month, senior regional intelligence officials have told the Guardian. (AP) The US military is reportedly planning to withdraw all US forces from Syria towards the end of April.