From a self-proclaimed caliphate that once spread across much of Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State group has been knocked back to a speck of land on the countries' shared border, the AP reports. In that tiny patch on the banks of the Euphrates River, hundreds of militants are hiding among civilians under the shadow of a small hill—encircled by forces waiting to declare the territorial defeat of the extremist group. A spokesman for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighting the militants said Sunday that the group is preventing civilians from leaving the area, closing a corridor from which nearly 40,000 residents have managed to escape since December. "They are taking their last breath," says an SDF fighter.
For weeks, the militants fought desperately for their shrinking territory. Once in control of about a third of Syria and Iraq, they now are down to what SDF officials describe as a small tented village atop a network of tunnels and caves. But they are holding on to hundreds of civilians—some of them possibly hostages—taking cover among them at the edge of a village in eastern Deir el-Zour province in Syria. As civilians trickled out of the enclave in recent weeks, the SDF and coalition officials screened them. Khatib Othman, an SDF fighter, came back from the front line a few days ago to take a break. "We want to take revenge," he said. "We will not let the blood of our martyrs go to waste." The capture of the last pocket of IS territory in either Syria or Iraq would mark the end of a four-year global campaign to crush the extremist group's so-called caliphate.
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