After months of ground attacks and US airstrikes, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have captured the last Islamic State pocket in eastern Syria.
The SDF moved through the village of Baghouz on Wednesday, searching for any remaining ISIS fighters, tunnels, and landmines.
Reporters overlooking Baghouz on the bank of the Euphrates River, near the Iraqi border, said the area was calm. A group of women and children were evacuated.
Thousands of ISIS members, including women and children, were moved out of Baghouz before the final offensive. ISIS fighters remain in the central Syrian desert, surrounded by pro-Assad forces.
The SDF, led by the Kurdish militia YPG, was created by the US in autumn 2015 to push back the Islamic State. It now controls about 27% of Syrian territory, across the Kurdish cantons of Cezire and Kobani.
But Kurdish groups now could face pressure, and possibly military operations, from both Turkey and the Assad regime.
Ankara considers the YPG to be part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK, which has fought Turkish security forces for more than 30 years. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called for a 32-km deep “safe zone” across Kurdish territory on the border, free of YPG fighters.
The Assad regime repeated its declaration this week, both through the Defense Minister and Bashar al-Assad, that it will regain “every inch” of Syria, including the Kurdish area.
Kurdish control is further challenged by the withdrawal of US troops from the SDF. Donald Trump ordered the departure in December, although the US military and officials have pushed back to extend the timeline and keep at least 400 personnel in Syria, half of them with the Kurds.
Syria Daily, Feb 24: Erdoğan — Turkey Must Control “Safe Area” in Kurdish Territory on Border
Syria Daily, March 19: Assad Regime Threatens Both Opposition and Kurds
Syria Daily, March 8: US Military Pushes Back Trump — No Date for Withdrawal