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'IS' families leave as militants make last stand in Syria

'IS' families leave as militants make last stand in Syria”

Votel said there is no pressure on him right now to meet a specific withdrawal date, and he said the U.S.is "making sure that we protect our forces, that we don't withdraw in a manner that increases the risk to our forces going through this".

U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Joseph Votel appears at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Feb. 5, 2019.

Votel acknowledged that the terror group's territory had shrunk from some 34,000 square miles at the height of its power to an area that is now less than a single square mile in the Syrian town of Baghouz.

On Friday, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced that it had resumed its offensive on Baghouz following the evacuation of civilians. A victory by the SDF could be declared as early as next week.

On Thursday, the two Yazidi women - Israa, 20, and Adiba Murad, 21 - took off their veils and burned them in front of women fighters of the Women's Protection Units, or YPJ, that is part of the SDF.

Votel said he believed that Islamic State militants being evacuated from the remaining territory controlled the militant group were largely "unrepentant, unbroken and radicalized". That would be a milestone in the devastating four-year campaign to defeat the group's so-called "caliphate" that once covered a vast territory straddling both Syria and Iraq. The U.S.is pushing for them to be returned to their home countries, but that effort has, so far, been met with mixed success.

Women and children evacuated from ISIL's embattled holdout of Baghouz arrive at a screening area held by the US -backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, March 6, 2019.

'IS' families leave as militants make last stand in Syria

"The broader worldwide community will need to determine how we deal with the thousands of fighters and family members now being held and safeguarded by the Syrian Democratic Forces", Votel said.

He said cross-border attacks by violent extremist organisations (VEOs) fuelled instability and generated tension along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

Administration officials have said options for foreign fighters who can not be repatriated include the USA detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Trump had ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria in December and declared the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) defeated.

He confirmed that the United States would not fully withdraw from Syria.

Since then, the White House has revised a complete withdrawal and will now leave a residual force of hundreds of USA troops in two areas of Syria which Votel said will allow the military "to continue our mission and safeguard our interests".

Despite the Islamic State group's territorial losses, it is not surrendering and will morph into an insurgency marked by assassinations, improvised bomb attacks and ambushes, warned America's top general in the Middle East to Congress on Thursday.

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