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Over 400 US Marines from Syria anti-IS operation to head home

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Beirut (AFP)

Over 400 US Marines involved in battling the Islamic State group in Syria are being withdrawn after allied forces ousted the jihadists from their "capital" Raqa, the US-led coalition said Thursday.

"The Marines supported Coalition partner forces with precise artillery strikes in the fight against ISIS," the coalition said in a statement.

"With the city liberated and ISIS on the run, the unit has been ordered home. Its replacements have been called off."

The coalition's director of operations Brigadier General Jonathan Braga called the move "a real sign of progress" as the jihadists have seen the vast swathes of ground they seized across Syria and Iraq in 2014 reduced to just a few remaining pockets.

"We're drawing down combat forces where it makes sense, but still continuing our efforts to help Syrian and Iraqi partners maintain security," he said in the statement.

An alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), retook Raqa from the jihadists in October after a brutal onslaught supported by artillery and air power from the US-led coalition.

The international coalition -- which began targeting the jihadists in 2014 -- is still supporting the militia in an operation in neighbouring Deir Ezzor province.

The Syrian regime backed by Russian fire power is currently conducting a separate offensive in the same region.

Since Raqa's capture, coalition strikes have dropped off drastically and, under pressure from Turkey, Washington has promised "adjustments to the military support" for the SDF.

Kurdish officials have, however, insisted that cooperation will continue between the two sides, while the US has said coalition forces do not expect to end their mission until a peace deal is negotiated in Syria.

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