A man walks on the rubble of damaged buildings in the rebel-controlled area of Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, Syria. Picture: REUTERS
A man walks on the rubble of damaged buildings in the rebel-controlled area of Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, Syria. Picture: REUTERS

The US military is just weeks away from liberating 100% of the remaining territory held by Islamic State (IS) in Syria’s Middle Euphrates River Valley, acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Tuesday.

The development would further fuel debate about US President Donald Trump’s planned troop withdrawal and the future of the US’s Kurdish allies. US goals in Syria have been seen as going beyond just defeating IS’s territorial footprint to include pushing back on Iranian and Iranian-backed forces engaged in Syria’s eight-year-long civil war.

Trump has vowed to strike at IS forces as he pulls US troops from the conflict, but he has faced pressure from allies including Israel to remain engaged. On a recent trip to Israel and Turkey, National Security Adviser John Bolton indicated that there would be no rush to remove troops from a US base in southern Syria known as Al-Tanf.

While Trump has focused on wiping out IS’s so-called caliphate, Pentagon reports from late 2018 suggest tens of thousands of IS fighters and supporters have gone underground in Syria and neighbouring Iraq and may be biding their time until they can regroup.

Bloomberg