Just 'a few hundred' ISIS fighters left in final Syria battle, US envoy says

news
A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter looks as smoke billows after an airstrike hit territory still held by Islamic State militants in the desert outside Baghouz, Syria, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. (Associated Press/Felipe Dana)

GENEVA (Reuters) - ISIS is down to its last few hundred fighters and less than a square kilometer of land in a battle for its final Syrian stronghold, although it may have 15,000-20,000 armed adherents in Syria and Iraq, U.S. envoy James Jeffrey said on Friday.


"We are just about finished with the campaign along the Euphrates to defeat the last territorial holdings of the 'caliphate'. They're down to a few hundred fighters and less than a square kilometer of land," said Jeffrey, the U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement and Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS (Islamic State).

Jeffrey said the United States was helping the Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria to secure IS prisoners but was also launching a campaign to get countries to take back foreign fighters and their families, to prosecute or re-educate them.

Islamic State redrew the map of the Middle East in 2014 when it declared its ultra-radical Sunni Islamist "caliphate" and established a rule known for mass killings, sexual enslavement and meting out punishments such as crucifixion.

The militants suffered their major military defeats in 2017, when they lost the cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. They were then forced down the Euphrates River to their last bastion at Baghouz, a cluster of hamlets on the eastern bank.

"We believe that there's between 15,000 and 20,000 Daesh armed adherents active, although many are in sleeper cells, in Syria and in Iraq," Jeffrey said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Speaking to reporters on a video call after attending a Syria humanitarian conference in Brussels, Jeffrey said the struggle to defeat Islamic State ideology would go on and there was no timetable for a full U.S. withdrawal from Syria.

Some troops would be pulled out but a contingent would stay in northeastern Syria, backed by coalition partners and control of air space, to continue the fight and prevent a destabilizing vacuum developing.

The United States would also maintain a force at al-Tanf close to the Iraqi and Jordanian borders to bolster local forces against Islamic State.

With a smaller force and much less combat after the territorial defeat of IS in Syria, U.S. costs would be far less, he said. In 2018, U.S. military operations in Syria cost about $2 billion out of a total defense budget of $700 billion, mainly expenditure on precision-guided munitions.

READ MORE: A Marine Raider Was Awarded The Silver Star For Taking Out An ISIS Car Bomb Car Bomb

WATCH MORE: Vice President Mike Pence: 'ISIS Has Been Defeated'

President Dwight D. Eisenhower poses with Hospital Corpsman Third Class William R. Charette, U.S. Navy, honored for his actions in Korea on 17 March 1953. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

A Medal of Honor recipient from Michigan will have a guided-missile destroyer named after him, the United States Navy announced on Monday.

Read More Show Less
President Donald Trump has ramped up airstrikes against al-Shabab in Somalia. (Associated Press/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

The U.S. military could be guilty of war crimes in Somalia, according to a new report that challenges what the government says about civilian casualties from its bombing campaign against al-Shabab, an al-Qaida affiliate, in the African nation.

The investigation, conducted by Amnesty International, found that US airstrikes from both drones and manned aircraft killed at least 14 civilians and injured seven more people in just five of more than 100 strikes in the past two years.

"The attacks appear to have violated international humanitarian law, and some may amount to war crimes," the Amnesty report said.

Read More Show Less
Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers board an aircraft to begin the first leg of their deployment in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel. (Georgia National Guard/Maj. William Carraway)

Editor's Note: This article by Patricia Kime originally appeared onMilitary.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

A new bill would give troops with infertility related to their military service greater access to advanced reproductive treatments, including up to three completed cycles of in vitro fertilization, or IVF, and cryopreservation of eggs and sperm for those heading to a combat zone.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, the commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force, speaks to Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) during a visit aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). Marines and Sailors with the 11th MEU are conducting routine operations as part of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group in the eastern Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck)

The Marine Corps' top general on the west coast is readying his Marines for the next big war against a near peer competitor, and one of his main concerns is figuring out how to alter the mindset of troops that have been fighting insurgencies since 9/11.

"If anything my problem is getting people out of the mindset of [counterterrorism] and making sure they're thinking about near peer adversaries in their training programs," Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, California, told Task & Purpose in an interview on Friday.

Read More Show Less
A Ruger AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, center, the same model, though in gray rather than black, used by the shooter in a Texas church massacre two days earlier, sits on display with other rifles on a wall in a gun shop Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in Lynnwood, Wash. (Associated Press/Elaine Thompson)

A new bill introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives would require a significant number of state residents own "at least one" AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with the help of a hefty tax break — except it won't ever get off the ground.

Read More Show Less