Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants withdrew Thursday from their last stronghold in Syria, a strategic town near the border with Iraq, following a government offensive that has effectively left the extremist group's fighters dispersed in villages and small towns in the desert.
The Syrian military declared the town liberated after intense battles that killed a large number of militants, including leaders. The military said they were still chasing other ISIS militants in different directions in the desert.
"The liberation of Boukamal is of great importance because it is a declaration of the fall of this group's project in the region generally and the collapse of its supporters' illusions to divide it, control large parts of the Syria-Iraq borders and secure supply routes between the two countries," said Army spokesman Gen. Ali Mayhoub in a televised statement.
Syrian pro-government media said Syrian troops had clashed with remnants of ISIS in the town after they entered it late Wednesday. On Thursday, they reported the town clear of ISIS fighters.
Pro-Syrian media reported the town was liberated. Al-Ikhbariya TV's journalist reported from the road to the town, joyfully breaking out on camera: "Daesh is finished. Live."
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces and allied troops, including Iraqi forces who linked from across the border, were combing through Boukamal after ISIS militants withdrew.
With the collapse of ISIS in Boukamal, the militants have no major territorial control in Syria and Iraq and are believed to have dispersed in the desert west and east of the Euphrates River. U.S. officials estimated that there were between 2,500 and 3,500 ISIS militants around Boukamal and that leading members of the group were also believed to have taken refuge in the town. The group has a small presence near the capital Damascus.
ISIS has suffered consecutive defeats at the hands of separate but simultaneous offensives in Iraq and Syria by the Russian-backed Syrian forces and allied militias as well as U.S.-backed Iraqi and Syrian fighters.