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Heavy clashes reported in ‘final battle’ against IS in Syria

A U.S. Marine with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command provides security during a key leader engagement in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) operations Sept. 9, 2018. CJTF-OIR is the military arm of the Global Coalition to defeat ISIS in designated parts of Iraq and Syria. (Cpl. Gabino Perez/U.S. Marine Corps)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S.-backed forces in Syria were locked in fierce fighting as they pressed the battle against the last enclave held by the extremist group Islamic State (IS) near the Iraqi border.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported “heavy clashes” between both sides on the morning of February 10, as planes of the U.S.-led coalition and artillery bombarded militant positions.

After a pause of more than a week to allow some 20,000 civilians to leave the area, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they were launching the “final battle” to oust IS from the last scrap of territory it holds in eastern Syria.

An SDF spokesman later said that the battle was “very fierce” as the “most experienced” militants were defending their last stronghold.

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Two years ago, the IS group controlled large swaths of Syrian and Iraqi territory, but they are now holed up in a tiny pocket in Syria’s eastern province of Deir al-Zor.

On February 6, U.S. President Donald Trump said: “It should be announced, probably some time next week, that we will have 100% of the caliphate.”

Trump said in December that IS militants were “mostly gone” and announced the United States would withdraw all of its 2,000 troops from Syria.