3 killed by US-led airstrike in eastern Syria

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The Islamic State group's "caliphate" has shrunk to less than one percent of its original size, the US-led coalition said Thursday, as a final onslaught in eastern Syria loomed.

The Syrian Democratic Forces spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted the offensive began on Saturday after more than 20,000 civilians were evacuated from the Isis-held area in the eastern province of Deir el-Zor.

The US military is preparing to withdraw American forces from Syria by the end of April and a significant portion of them will be out by the middle of March, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing current and former US officials.

Merkel's remarks at the inauguration of the Berlin headquarters of Germany's foreign intelligence agency BND contradicted statements by U.S. President Donald Trump that the Islamist group has been defeated.

This is a developing story.

Scores of Isis fighters are now besieged in two villages, or less than 1% of the self-styled caliphate that once sprawled across large parts of Syria and Iraq.

In December 2018, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara's armed forces were ready to initiate a campaign in eastern Syria if the U.S. didn't remove its Kurdish allies from the region.

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"It should be formally announced sometime, probably next week, that we will have 100 per cent of the caliphate", Trump told representatives of the 79-member, USA -led coalition fighting IS.

Kurdish authorities say they have in their custody hundreds of foreign male ISIS members.

More than 37,000 people, mostly wives and children of militants, have fled IS territory since the SDF intensified its offensive in December, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Some of these are the most battle-hardened, ruthless and experienced fighters remaining in ISIS.

Earlier this week, CBS News visited the frontline and found no sign of a slowdown, as Kurdish-led troops closed in on the last strip of ISIS territory, backed up by USA and coalition airstrikes.

Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is believed to have fled an attempted coup by fighters within his own group last month, senior regional intelligence officials have told the Guardian.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the USA military was preparing to withdraw from Syria by the end of April.

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