Syrian Kurdish-led forces will announce “a complete victory” over the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group in Syria in around one week, according to the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Mazloum Kobani, SDF’s commander-in-chief, made the remark while meeting the 24 Kurdish fighters who were recently released after they were held by ISIL
“We will announce after a week a complete victory over Daesh,” said Kobani in a video posted online by SDF on Thursday, using the Arabic acronym of ISIL.
It was not clear when the footage was made. In the video, Kobani shook hands with the released fighters who said they fell in the hands of ISIL 22 days ago.
The group backed by the United States did not give details on when or how the ISIL captives were released and if there were negotiations with the group to secure their freedom.
SDF fighters have been trying to seize control of the village of Baghouz, near the Iraqi border, for several weeks. It is the last ISIL-held area in eastern Syria.
The SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin said the force was waiting to complete evacuations from Baghouz before launching a final push to defeat ISIL.
“We want the evacuation operations to finish as soon as possible so we can move to the next phase: an assault or the surrender” of the fighters still inside, Afrin told the AFP news agency on Thursday.
The SDF estimate the number of people inside the last ISIL redoubt, a patch of half a square kilometre on the banks of the Euphrates River, at anything from a few hundred to several thousand.
Thousands of civilians have been evacuated from the village and taken to an already overcrowded camp in the northeastern province of al-Hasakah.
The SDF has played a key role in battling ISIL in northern and eastern Syria.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump told US troops on Thursday that US-backed forces in Syria have retaken 100 percent of the territory once held by ISIL.
He made the comments at US Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson during a refuelling stop in Alaska on his way back to Washington from a summit in Vietnam.
Also on Thursday, Geir Pedersen, United Nation’s new envoy to Syria, said in his first briefing to the UN Security Council that a territorial defeat of ISIL was near, but experience suggests they can re-emerge.
The Norwegian diplomat set out his goals, which include more concrete action to address the issue of detainees, abductees and missing persons, as well as to convene a committee to redraft the country’s constitution as soon as possible.
Pedersen’s three predecessors were not able to launch genuine peace negotiations. The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has baulked at discussing political change, while the opposition has demanded Assad’s resignation.
Also in the UN Security Council meeting, France, Germany and the United Kingdom reiterated their stance that they will not offer help to reconstruct Syria until a political process and transition are under way.
In Geneva, UN rights experts said on Thursday that the ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria are hampering refugee returns even though violence has decreased.
The members of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria pointed out that Syrians are not protected by rule of law anywhere, whether they live in areas controlled by the government, the SDF or the Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) armed group, a former al-Qaeda affiliate.
More than seven years of hostilities have created a security vacuum that fosters violence and lawlessness leading to “conditions that render the possibility for safe and sustainable return completely illusory,” Paulo Pinheiro, the Commission chairman, said at a press conference.
More than 5.5 million Syrians have fled to neighbouring and nearby countries in the region since the start of the war, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
Referring to the planned US troop reductions, Pinheiro said: “We are deeply concerned about the possible implications of any large-scale troop withdrawals, which have the potential to deepen pre-existing security vacuums.”
The commission also warned about the current escalation of violence in the northwestern province of Idlib, which is largely controlled by HTS.
“The war is not over, despite several voices in the international community who tell this story,” Pinheiro said.