U.S. President Donald Trump has said that all Islamic State (IS)-held territory in Syria has been eliminated, even as reports of continued fighting came from the battlefield of Baghouz.
Trump said on March 22 that "it's about time" that IS no longer controlled territory in the region, and he showed a before-and-after map to reporters to demonstrate the extent of jihadist losses during his presidency.
Earlier, Trump's spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, said that "the territorial caliphate has been eliminated in Syria." Asked by reporters if IS had lost 100 percent of its territory, Sanders replied, "Yes."
However, a spokesman for the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said that despite the White House's assurances, clashes were ongoing.
"Heavy fighting continues around mount Baghouz right now to finish off whatever remains of [Islamic State]," Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, said on Twitter on March 22.
A U.S.-led coalition has helped the SDF drive IS from swathes of northeastern Syria and down the Euphrates Valley since 2015 with air strikes and special forces assistance.
SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said earlier on March 22 that there were still IS fighters and women and children hiding in caves near Baghouz.
The complete fall of Baghouz would mark the demise of the IS group's self-declared caliphate, which at its height stretched across large parts of Syria and Iraq.
Meanwhile, Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar Jaafari said that IS was not yet finished in Syria. He said it was the Syrian government backed by Russia and Iran that was genuinely battling it, not the United States.
Some IS fighters remain holed up in the central Syrian desert, an area entirely surrounded by the Syrian Army.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.