Islamic State: ‘Thousands of civilians’ still trapped in Baghuz.

Civilians have been fleeing Baghuz in their hundreds over the past week

The battle to claim the last pocket of territory from the Islamic State group (IS) is being held up because thousands of civilians remain trapped there.

US-backed Kurdish forces launched an assault on Baghuz, on the Syrian side of the Iraqi border, last week.

US President Donald Trump said on Friday the defeat of IS would be announced “over the next 24 hours”.

But those 24 hours passed on Saturday with no announcement from the White House on the defeat of IS.

Instead, Kurdish fighters said the news was likely to emerge “in the coming few days” as civilians continued to flee.

What’s the latest?

Jiya Furat, the leader of the battle for Baghuz for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said IS fighters were now trapped in a 700 sq metre section of the town.

“Thousands of civilians are still trapped there as human shields,” he said on Saturday.

“In the coming few days, in a very short time, we will spread the good tidings to the world of the military end of Daesh [IS].”

SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin told Agence France-Presse they were surprised to learn how many civilians were still inside. The SDF had to slow its approach as a result, he said.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 440 IS fighters had surrendered over the past few days, but the SDF believes a few hundred remain trapped in Baghuz.

Map showing how the area under IS control has shrunk between January 2015 and February 2019

The Observatory said efforts were under way to find IS fighters hiding in tunnels they had dug around Baghuz.

What did Mr Trump announce?

Four years ago IS controlled 88,000 sq km (34,000 sq miles) of territory stretching from western Syria to eastern Iraq, proclaimed the creation of a “caliphate”, imposed its brutal rule on almost eight million people and generated billions of dollars from oil, extortion, robbery and kidnapping.

But in December, Mr Trump surprisingly announced the withdrawal of US troops from Syria as he believed IS had been “beaten”.

Then on Friday afternoon, he said: “We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate and that will be announced over the next 24 hours.”

Was Trump right to say IS is beaten?

IS has suffered substantial losses, but the UN has said it still reportedly controls between 14,000 and 18,000 militants in Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile, there are significant numbers of IS-affiliated militants in Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, South-East Asia and West Africa, and to a lesser extent in Somalia, Yemen and the Sahel.

How the jihadist group rose and fell

October 2006
The jihadist group announces the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and in April 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi becomes its leader.

January 2013
The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) begins seizing control of territory in Syria, including the city of Raqqa. In April that year, al-Baghdadi changes his group’s name to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil or Isis).

June 2014
Isis conquers over a dozen Iraqi cities and towns like Mosul and Tikrit, and seizes Syria’s largest oilfield in the Homs province. On 29 June, the jihadist group formally declares the creation of a caliphate and becomes known as Islamic State (IS).

August 2014
IS fighters begin killing and enslaving thousands from the Yazidi religious minority in northern Iraq and release the first of several videos of Western hostages – journalists and aid workers – being beheaded.

September 2014
The US begins air strikes, starting with attacks on the de-facto IS capital of Raqqa.

January 2015
IS is at the height of its control, ruling over almost eight million people across 88,000 sq km (34,000 sq miles) from western Syria to eastern Iraq. It is also generating billions of dollars from oil, extortion, robbery and kidnapping.

March 2016
The Syrian government recaptures the ancient city of Palmyra, but loses it again in December 2016 and then finally recaptures the destroyed Unesco World Heritage site in March 2017.

July 2017
Iraqi forces liberate Mosul, but the 10-month battle leaves thousands of civilians dead, more than 800,000 displaced and much of Iraq’s second city destroyed.

October 2017
IS loses control of Raqqa to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, ending three years of rule.

December 2017
Iraq’s government declares victory over IS after retaking full control of the Iraqi-Syrian border.

February 2019
US President Donald Trump says the jihadist group is close to being defeated, after a battle for the final IS-held territory on the Syrian-Iraqi border lasted weeks.