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US-backed Syrian Defense Force hands over 280 IS fighters to Iraq

SDF fighters in central Raqqa. (Mahmoud Bali/Voice Of America/Released)

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

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have so far handed over 280 captured Islamic State (IS) insurgents to the government of Iraq, officials in Baghdad said on February 24.

The number handed over until now represents just a portion of the “large number” of IS fighters in the custody of the SDF, said officials, who added that the captives include more than 500 Iraqis.

The first batch of about 130 Iraqi IS members were turned over on February 21, Iraqi security forces said.

A statement by the military said the transfers were set to “continue until they are completed.”

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IS fighters captured large portions of Iraqi and Syrian territory from government forces in 2014, establishing what they called an “Islamic caliphate.”

However, U.S.-backed forces have driven the militants from most of their territory in both countries, with the remnants holding out in increasingly shrinking enclaves.

The SDF, an alliance of Syrian Arab and Kurdish fighters, trapped the militants in less than half a square kilometer in a hamlet in the Syrian desert.

U.S. President Donald Trump has signaled he will soon declare the end of the “caliphate” and has said he will pull all 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria, where they have been supporting the SDF.

The White House later said that some 400 U.S. “peacekeepers” would remain in the country for “some time.”