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Trump promises announcement on ISIS within '24 hours'

US President Donald Trump pauses during his declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border during remarks about border security in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, US, February 15, 2019
President Donald Trump on Friday said the United States would be announcing the end of the ISIS group’s once-sprawling "caliphate" within the next day.

"We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate and that will be announced over the next 24 hours," Trump told reporters at the White House.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have been closing in on holdout jihadists since September last year and a few hundred surviving ISIS members are now boxed into an area of around one square kilometer (less than half a square mile.)
ISIS still has thousands of fighters and sleeper cells scattered across several countries, but that speck of terrain is all that's left of the group's self-declared "caliphate" that in 2014 spanned an area the size of Britain and administered millions of people.

Successive offensives in Iraq and Syria have shattered the proto-state, which lost its key cities one after the other and has since late 2017 been confined to its traditional power base in the Euphrates valley.

The expected announcement comes after Trump shocked allies and senior figures in his own administration by announcing in December the US was carrying out a full troop withdrawal from Syria because ISIS had been "beaten."

The plan, which prompted the resignation of then defense secretary Jim Mattis, could be sped up following the declaration of victory.

Trump also claimed he had "stopped the slaughter of perhaps three million people" in Idlib, the northwestern region of Syria that is held by anti-regime rebels and is also home to thousands of al-Qaeda aligned jihadists.

The area was being threatened last year by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian troops, but they did not go in because "I put out a statement that you better not do it," Trump said.

"We do a lot of good work. This administration does a tremendous job and we don't get credit for it," he added.

Idlib, the last major part of Syria still outside the control of Assad's regime, has been hit by sporadic government shelling for weeks despite a deal between Russia and rebel backer Turkey to create a "demilitarized zone."

Mattis' successor, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, pledged Friday that the US would "maintain our counterterrorism capabilities in the region" and "continue to support our local partners' ability to stand up to the remnants of ISIS" -- but he gave no details about how this would be done.