Syrian city of Jarabulus
Photograph: Google maps

Islamic State has lost its last link between its main territories and the outside world as Syrian rebels backed by Turkish tanks and airstrikes captured the last stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border held by the extremist group.

Rebel forces advancing west from the town of Jarabulus and east from al-Rai captured the last border villages held by Islamic State on Sunday afternoon, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and rebel groups involved in the offensive.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency confirmed the development, which puts an end to more than three years of Islamic State presence on the border.

The extremist group used the area, north-east of Aleppo, to bring foreign fighters into its territories in Iraq and Syria.

Its recruitment rocketed as it gained ground in the Syrian civil war from 2013 on and then captured swathes of northern and western Iraq in a lightning offensive in June 2014.

But it lost most of its border territory to Kurdish-led Syrian forces backed by US-led airstrikes who forced it from swathes of north-eastern Syria after defeating it in the battle for the border town of Kobane in 2015.

The US saw that campaign, spearheaded by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), as key to isolating the extremist group's de facto Syrian capital of al-Raqqa and disrupting its supply lines.

The jihadist organization's links to the outside world have now finally been severed by Turkey's first ground offensive inside Syria, backing rebel groups aligned with Ankara.

Turkey has said the offensive, which began ten days ago when Jarabulus fell to its rebel allies with little resistance, is aimed at both Islamic State and the YPG.

It launched the operation shortly after the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces captured the town of Minbij, south of Jarabulus, from Islamic State.

Turkey, which distrusts the Kurdish-led forces due to their links with banned Kurdish rebels operating on its own territory, feared that the capture of Minbij would lead to the Kurds advancing further west and linking up with an enclave they control in the far north-west of Syria.

That would have left Ankara facing a Kurdish entity spanning most of its southern border.

The Turkish-backed rebels last week clashed with Kurdish-aligned forces south of Jarabulus, driving them from a string of villages before calm was restored between the two US allies on Tuesday.

The Observatory, a Britain-based monitoring group, reported that the US envoy for the war against Islamic State, Brett McGurk, met Kurdish leaders inside Syria on Sunday and reassured them of Washington's continued support.

That meeting was not immediately confirmed by the US or by the Kurdish side.

Islamic State originated as the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaeda affiliate which set up a Syrian branch called the al-Nusra Front after the Syrian conflict broke out in 2011.

Al-Nusra split with Islamic State in 2013, but many militants stayed loyal to the Iraqi leadership under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who changed the group's name to "the Islamic State" following its victories in Iraq in 2014.

Unlike al-Nusra, which remains a close ally of other rebel groups, Islamic State fought all sides to gain full control of areas of Syria it dominated.

Its growing military strength, brutal killings of local and Western prisoners, and terrorist-style bombing atrocities at home and abroad quickly made its elimination a key objective for both Arab and Western leaders.

Islamic State is currently reeling under attacks from increasingly effective Iraqi security forces as well as the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The group on Wednesday announced that one of its top leaders and its official spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, known for his calls for attacks on Western targets, was killed in the Aleppo area.

The US said it had targeted al-Adnani in an airstrike but could not confirm his death.

According to analysis firm IHS, Islamic State lost 12 per cent of its territory in the first six months of 2016 as well as suffering a drastic decline in its revenues.

The group still holds two key strongholds of al-Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, while analysts have warned that territorial losses are likely to push the movement to intensify terrorist-style attacks such as those al-Adnani called for.

Latest news

Messi's last minute penalty saves Barcelona from shock draw

Barcelona beat Leganes 2-1 with a last minute penalty from Lionel Messi in the Spanish first division on Sunday.

At least 30 injured after explosion in Bogota

A explosion in the Macarena area of Bogota injured at least 30 people on Sunday, many of them police officers who were guarding a bull running through the streets of the Colombian capital.

Vojvodina institutions hold conference on Bunjevci's non-Croat ethnic background

There are around 16,000 members of the Bunjevci community in Vojvodina who deny their Croat ethnic background. They are represented by the Bunjevci National Council which enjoys the support of state authorities, and, since the change of government in Vojvodina, of the provincial authorities as well.

SpaceX rocket blasts off from historic launch pad en route to ISS

A commercial rocket built by SpaceX is on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) with a load of research equipment, cargo and supplies, NASA said Sunday.

Defence deals worth 1.2 billion dollars announced at key UAE show

Deals worth nearly 4.4 billion dirhams (1.2 billion dollars) were reached at a major defence show that opened Sunday in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), an official said.

Thousands protest in Malta against controversial press law reforms

Thousands of people attended a demonstration in Malta on Sunday, answering a call by the main opposition party to protest against what it described as a threat to democracy and freedom of expression.

London's mayor calls for Trump's state visit to be cancelled

US President Donald Trump should be denied a state visit to Britain due to his "cruel and shameful" immigration policies, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Sunday.

'Now more than ever': US scientists gird for confrontation with Trump

Normally any annual gathering of American scientists is relatively non-political. But, with Donald Trump in the White House, things are different at this year's meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Many researchers are worried about their future and are urging colleagues to protest - and remain vigilant.

Int'l conference on post-war monuments in post-communist Europe held in Zagreb

The event was organised by the Zagreb-based association SF:ius in cooperation with the Croatian chapter of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).

Serbians wouldn't go to war for Kosovo - poll

A majority of citizens in Serbia wouldn't go to war to claim back Kosovo, shows a survey conducted by the Serbian nongovernmental organisation "Belgrade Centre for Security Policy".

Grabar-Kitarovic, Lavrov find solution to air pollution caused by Bosanski Brod oil refinery

Croatia and Russia have found a solution for the problem of air pollution caused by a Russian-owned oil refinery in Bosanski Brod, northern Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has been poisoning residents of Slavonski Brod, a town across the Sava River in Croatia, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said in Munich on Sunday.

Istria border police discover 20 migrants in van

During routine border control, police in the northern Croatian Adriatic region of Istria on Saturday discovered 20 migrants in a van driven by a Croatian national, the Ministry of the Interior said.