IS defends last pocket of territory in Syria

US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces assault’s overall commander Jia Furat answers the press near the Omar oil field in the eastern Deir Ezzor province on Saturday.—AFP

IS defends last pocket of territory in Syria

On Saturday, Vice-President Mike Pence vowed the USA would "hunt down" ISIS even after pulling its troops out of Syria, where the extremists are facing the loss of their final scrap of land. Those force numbers would stay "more or less steady", he said."We will want to make sure that we get the right capabilities on the ground to support the Iraqis going forward", Votel told reporters traveling with him last week.

Trump has sworn to pull U.S. forces from Syria after Islamic State's territorial defeat, raising questions over the fate of Washington's Kurdish allies and Turkish involvement in northeast Syria.

SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali said IS group had blocked roads out of its holdout, preventing those remaining from escaping to safety.

Bali, the SDF spokesman, declined to comment on Trump's statement.

"It's been two days since anyone came out", an SDF fighter told AFP.

At a collection point for new arrivals outside Baghuz yesterday, dozens of tents and a few trucks sat empty. However, the jihadists were still a lot of civilians as human shields, which is why the go rise slowly. "But the SDF are not willing to discuss this option", said the source who asked not to be named.

- February 11: "The SDF are advancing slowly", reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, but landmines, IS snipers, and tunnels dug out by extremists are hindering the advance.

As civilians trickled out of the enclave in recent weeks, the SDF and coalition officials screened them.

The extremists may include high-level commanders, and the presence of possible captives could explains the slow final push, they added.

In an interview on Friday, Votel told Reuters he would recommend continued arms and aid to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as needed, provided the Kurdish-led fighters keep the pressure on Islamic State and help prevent its resurgence.

Germany, too, was cool toward Trump's demands, saying it could only take back Islamic State fighters if the suspects had consular access.

Once the US-led coalition declares it has taken all ISIS territories, the White House is expected to withdraw American troops.

Begum, who fled the United Kingdom at the age of 15, is now 19 and had her third child in Syria on Sunday.

His tweet prompted a reaction from Paris, Brussels and Berlin.

Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that it would be "extremely difficult" to organize the repatriation of European nationals from Syria.

He said: "Taking responsibility means that we bring them back, we talk to them, we investigate them, and if there are charges that could properly be laid against them then that should be the case and they should be put through the judicial process and punished accordingly".

Germany's Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen stressed the difficulties however of putting the ex-fighters on trial.

The top United States general in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Paul LaCamera, responded to a question by CNN's Barbara Starr on Sunday about the issue of the detainees and said, "The numbers are not negligible". It said about a third of German and Belgian nationals had returned but France had a return rate of just 12%.

In Belgium, justice minister Koen Geens called for a collective "European solution" to the problem of foreign fighters, urging a solution that carries the least security risks.

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