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Citing current and former US officials, the Wall Street Journal reported that the USA military was preparing to withdraw its forces from Syria by the end of April and a significant portion of them would be out by the middle of March.

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.

U.S. President Donald Trump predicted Wednesday that IS will have lost all the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria by next week.

The Baghouz area on the shores of the Euphrates River in eastern Deir ez-Zor province, near the border with Iraq, is the last piece of significant territory held by the jihadists who had once controlled swathes of land across Iraq and Syria.

Trump in December ordered a complete troop withdrawal from Syria, a shock announcement that left the Kurds scrambling for new allies. An SDF statement said the offensive was focused on the village of Baghuz.

Bali said there could be up to 600 IS fighters still inside the pocket, a lot of them foreigners.

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"They are attempting to escape through intermixing with the innocent women and children attempting to flee the fighting", Ghika said.

Thousands of suspected IS fighters have attempted to blend in with civilians fleeing the jihadists' last bastion, including a large number of foreigners.

USA officials have said in recent weeks that Isis has lost 99.5% of its territory and is holding on to fewer than 5 square kilometres in Syria, or less than 2 square miles, where the bulk of the fighters are concentrated. But activists and residents say IS still has sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq, and is laying the groundwork for an insurgency.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 12 IS gunmen attacked the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and clashed with them for several hours until most of the attackers were killed early Saturday.

More than 37,000 people, mostly wives and children of jihadist fighters, have fled IS territory since the SDF, backed by the US-led coalition, intensified its offensive in December, according to the Observatory.


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