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Contradicting Trump, Merkel says Islamic State group ‘far from defeated’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a speech during the official opening ceremony of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) building on February 8, 2019 in Berlin

The Islamic State (IS) group is far from defeated, and is morphing into an asymmetrical warfare force after the militant group lost almost all of the territory it once controlled in Syria, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned on Friday.

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Merkel’s remarks, which came at the inauguration of the Berlin headquarters of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency BND, contradict statements by US President Donald Trump that the Islamist group has been defeated.

“The so-called Islamic State has been luckily driven out of its territory but this unfortunately doesn’t mean that Islamic State has disappeared,” Merkel said. “It is transforming into an asymmetrical warfare force. And this, of course, is a threat.”

The conservative chancellor said monitoring events in Syria was one of the BND’s top priorities, noting that: “We remain a long way from peace in Syria.”

Most US troops pulled out ‘by mid-March’

In December, US President Donald Trump tweeted that the IS group had been “defeated” in Syria, and followed-up with a statement saying the US would withdraw all of its 2,000 troops there by the end of April. The plan has alarmed European allies who fear the IS group will resurface in Syria in the absence of a credible peace plan to end the country’s civil war.

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal cited current and former US officials as saying that the plan was well underway and that most of the US troops would have been pulled out already by the middle of March. The withdrawal would also include troops deployed at the US military base at Tanf, near the Syrian border with Iraq and Jordan, they said.

IS group fighters hiding among civilians

On Friday, Kurdish-led forces in eastern Syria prepared for a push on the last remaining speck of the IS group's so-called "caliphate”, of which just a few scattered hamlets in the Euphrates Valley remain.

Four years ago, the militants controlled territory the size of Britain and millions of people, but Major General Christopher Ghika, the deputy commander of the US coalition fighting the group, on Thursday said that "now less than one percent of the original caliphate" remains.

The coalition has been training and providing air support to the Syrian Democratic Forces, which launched an offensive on the last pocket of jihadist territory in September 2018.

Two months later, they took Hajin, which was the last town of note under IS group control.

Since then, thousands of suspected IS group fighters have attempted to blend in with civilians fleeing the jihadists' last bastion, including a large number of foreigners.

"They are attempting to escape through intermixing with the innocent women and children attempting to flee the fighting," Ghika said.

Speaking at the State Department on Wednesday, Trump said that US-led troops and their Kurdish allies should formally announce the end of the "caliphate" some time next week.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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