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BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) - The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched an assault on Sunday against the final Islamic State enclave in eastern Syria, aiming to wipe out the last vestige of its self-declared "caliphate" that once spanned a third of Iraq and Syria.
While the Baghouz enclave represents the last shred of populated land held by the jihadists, the group is still widely seen as a big security threat with remote territory elsewhere and the continued capacity to launch guerrilla attacks.
The SDF, spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, has been poised to advance into the enclave for weeks, but has repeatedly held back to allow for the evacuation of civilians, many of them wives and children of Islamic State fighters.
Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, said no further civilians had emerged from the enclave at the Iraqi border since Saturday and the SDF had not observed any more civilians in the area, prompting the decision to attack.
"The military operations have started. Our forces are now clashing with the terrorists and the attack started," he said.
Tens of thousands of people have streamed out of the shrinking territory held by Islamic State over the last months.
Bali said more than 4,000 militants had surrendered to the SDF in the past month.
Earlier on Sunday, a Reuters correspondent saw SDF forces advance into a tented area of Baghouz after Islamic State fighters withdrew from it. SDF fighters gathered some ammunition and rifles left behind by the jihadists.
The Pentagon has identified the two soldiers were killed in combat in Afghanistan on Wednesday as members of U.S. Army Special Forces.
Master Sgt. Luis F. DeLeon-Figueroa, 31, and Master Sgt. Jose J. Gonzalez, 35, both died in Faryab Province from wounds sustained from small arms fire, the Pentagon said in a press release. The incident is under investigation.
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted on Thursday of possible Israeli involvement in attacks against Iranian-linked targets in Iraq.
A series of blasts in the past few weeks have hit weapon depots and bases belonging to paramilitary groups in Iraq, many of them backed by Israel's regional foe Iran. The groups blamed the United States and Israel for the blasts on Wednesday.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday that will make it easier for permanently disabled veterans to have their student loan debt forgiven.
Physical fitness tests were briefly suspended earlier this week and outdoor cardio testing will be curtailed for the remainder of the summer at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, after an airman died Saturday. She had completed her PT test on Friday.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer has expanded a review of the Judge Advocate General Corps to include the Marine Corps, a Navy spokesman said on Thursday.
"There is value in applying this review and its subsequent recommendations across the Department of the Navy," Cmdr. Jereal Dorsey told Task & Purpose. "The review's purpose is to confirm the uniformed legal community is structurally and organizationally sound and best supporting the good order and discipline our integrated naval force."