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US, Russia need to de-conflict their air operations: White House

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Photo credit: whitehouse.gov

Washington: The White House reiterated the need for the US and Russia to “de-conflict” their air operations inside Syria as Russia started its first round of air strikes against the Islamic State (IS), Xinhua reported.

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Photo Credit: www.newyorker.com
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Photo Credit: www.newyorker.com

“Both presidents agreed that it was a priority for both countries, that tactical, practical conversations between our militaries take place to ensure that our military activities inside of Syria are properly de-conflicted,” White House spokesperson Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday.

“The US military officials have been in touch with their Russian counterparts already to set up those discussions,” Earnest added.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Tuesday directed his staff to “open lines of communication with Russia” to de-conflict air operations in Syria, according to Pentagon press secretary.

“We expect the details of those conversations, including the exact timing of those conversations, will be worked out in the coming day,” said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook at a press briefing.

According to Cook, the purpose of the “de-confliction discussions” will be to ensure the ongoing US-led coalition air strikes against the IS are not “interrupted” by any future Russian military activity and to avoid misjudgment and miscalculation.

Russian air forces carried out air strikes Wednesday in the central Syrian provinces of Homs and Hama, targeting what Moscow said were IS positions.

In the first air strikes, 20 flights were carried out, hitting “eight Islamic State targets” including a command post held by the extreme group, Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said a Russian official informed the US Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq prior to Russia’s first ever air strikes in Syria against the IS and warned the United States to stay clear of Syrian airspace.

(IANS)

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“When I Took Over, It Was A Mess. They Were All Over The Place — All Over Syria and Iraq,” Claims Trump as IS Territory in Syria is Nearly Eliminated

Ciyager Amed, an official with the Kurdish-led SDF, said they were searching for any IS militants hiding in tunnels in a riverside pocket in the village of Baghuz. The SDF has not yet announced a victory over IS. 

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Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks at Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio, March 20, 2019. VOA

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the last pocket of the Islamic State’s land in Syria would be liberated by U.S.-backed forces “by tonight.”

Trump previously announced the defeat of the group, but sleeper cells of fighters re-emerged. With no signs of fighting on Wednesday, however, the long-running battle to retake the militants’ last outpost in eastern Syria appeared to have reached its conclusion.

“The caliphate is gone as of tonight,” Trump said in a speech at a factory in Lima, Ohio, where military tanks are assembled.

End of caliphate

The complete fall of Baghuz would mark the end of IS’s self-declared caliphate, which at its height stretched across large parts of Syria and Iraq.

During his speech, Trump held up two maps of Syria — one covered in red representing territory held by the militant group when he was elected president in November 2016 and the other that had only a speck of red.

Donald Trump
Trump previously announced the defeat of the group, but sleeper cells of fighters re-emerged. With no signs of fighting on Wednesday, however, the long-running battle to retake the militants’ last outpost in eastern Syria appeared to have reached its conclusion. VOA

“When I took over, it was a mess. They were all over the place — all over Syria and Iraq,” said Trump, who has said the U.S. will keep 400 troops in Syria indefinitely.

For the past four years, U.S.-led forces have waged a destructive campaign against the group. But even after Baghuz’s fall, IS maintains a scattered presence and sleeper cells that threaten a continuing insurgency.

The militants have been putting up a desperate fight, their propaganda machine working even as their hold on territory has been slipping away. The battle for Baghuz has dragged on for weeks and the encampment had proven to be a major battleground, with tents covering foxholes and underground tunnels.

FILE - A child stands on the back of a truck after being evacuated out of the last territory held by Islamic State militants, outside Baghuz, Syria, March 4, 2019.
A child stands on the back of a truck after being evacuated out of the last territory held by Islamic State militants, outside Baghuz, Syria, March 4, 2019. VOA

Tens of thousands of civilians

The siege has also been slowed by the unexpectedly large number of civilians in Baghuz, most of them families of IS members. Over past weeks they have been flowing out, exhausted, hungry and often wounded. The sheer number who emerged — nearly 30,000 since early January, according to Kurdish officials — took the Syrian Democratic Forces by surprise.

Ciyager Amed, an official with the Kurdish-led SDF, said they were searching for any IS militants hiding in tunnels in a riverside pocket in the village of Baghuz. The SDF has not yet announced a victory over IS.

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Associated Press journalists saw SDF soldiers loading women and children into trailer trucks on the hilltop over Baghuz, a sign that evacuations were still underway Wednesday. Black smoke was rising from the village.

On Tuesday, the SDF seized control of the encampment held by IS after hundreds of militants surrendered overnight, signaling the group’s collapse after months of stiff resistance. (VOA)