ISIS Militants Fight to Hold Onto Final Foothold in Eastern Syria

Islamic State chief escapes death as his fighters turn on him: report

US-backed forces were locked in fierce fighting Sunday as they pressed the battle against the last shred of the Islamic State group's "caliphate" in eastern Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the push by the Kurdish-led SDF has been slow due to land mines and sniper fire, as well as the extremists' use of tunnels and suicide vehicle bombs.

In a brief statement posted on its website, the Syrian Democratic Forces said the push began on Saturday night and was focused on the village of Baghouz, on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River in the southeastern Syria province of Deir al-Zour.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by USA air attacks, have successfully overtaken the terror group, which gained control of large swaths of northeastern Syria in 2014, NPR's Lama Al-Arian reports for our Newscast unit.

In December, US President Donald Trump said IS militants were "mostly gone" and announced the US would withdraw all of its 2,000 troops from Syria.

The official also warned that the Islamic State would benefit from any USA withdrawal of over 2,000 troops from Syria. "But again, it will all be driven by the situation on the ground".

Earlier in the day, a war monitor reported that negotiations are underway in eastern Syria between the US -led forces and the IS group for the latter's withdrawal from its last redoubt. "The Syrian Democratic Forces will and we will help them", he added, referring to the US-backed group of Kurdish and Arab fighters that have been America's principal ally in Syria.

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Both sides signed an agreement that focuses on North Korea's denuclearization effort, though it was short on details. Biegun agreed with his North Korean counterpart Kim Hyok Chol to hold further talks ahead of the event, it added.

"[ISIL] launched a counter-attack on our forces and we are now responding with rockets, air strikes and direct clashes", said SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali. But in an interview with The Daily Mail, he said Britain and its allies were hunting down the online jihadis.

US Army General Joseph Votel said he expected American troops to remain stationed in neigbhouring Iraq but did say: "We don't want to keep people on the ground that we don't need and [who] don't have a valid mission".

A top United States commander has issued a warning saying there are "tens of thousands" of ISIS fighters spread across Syria and Iraq. The Kurdish Hawar news agency also reported heavy fighting Monday in Baghouz.

But a top USA general said on Tuesday the group would pose an enduring threat following the US withdrawal, as it retained leaders, fighters, facilitators and resources that would fuel a menacing insurgency.

Earlier Saturday, IS militants attacked SDF fighters near an oil field in the country's east, triggering airstrikes by the USA -led coalition. SDF officials say some 1,500 civilians could still be inside.

Therefore, he said, the SDF is taking more measures to create a corridor to make sure they remain safe.

The Kurds have largely stayed out of Syria's almost eight-year civil war, instead building their own semi-autonomous institutions in the northeast of the country.

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