WASHINGTON — The end of the ISIS land caliphate, which once stretched over great areas of Syria and Iraq, will be any day now, anti-ISIS coalition officials said Thursday.
“ISIS is on the verge of collapse and the end of the physical caliphate is at hand,” Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, a spokesperson for the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition said in a statement from Baghdad to the media.
During his State of the Union message last week, President Donald Trump said ISIS would be driven from its past land holdings this week.
Anti-ISIS ground forces, primarily the Kurdish/Arab Syrian Democratic Force, have been squeezing ground elements of ISIS in a bloody, stubborn tight noose around their last small enclave of Baghouz,Syria, near the border with Iraq.
Officials said the remaining ISIS fighters are more likely to be foreign-born, as local ISIS elements have abandoned the fight in an attempt to meld into civilian populations and escape.
Pentagon officials said they do not expect ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to be among the 1,000 or so remaining in the enclave.
U.S. air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq numbered 199 strikes against 326 targets from Jan. 27 to Feb. 9, coalition spokespersons said.
“It has been the decimation of the caliphate,” Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said to reporters on Thursday. “We talk about that in a military context; they no longer hold geography. They no longer govern in the spaces they once held. In that regards, they have been defeated.”
Shanahan said the fight against ISIS now enters the next phase.
“How do we keep them eliminated? How do we keep them surprised? It is the next phrase that is critical.”