US Military Planes Head for Venezuela With Aid

The U.S. Air Force has begun flying tons of aid to a Colombian town on the Venezuelan border as part of an effort meant to undermine socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

 

The first of three C-17 cargo planes took off Saturday from Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida and landed in the town of Cucuta. It’s a collection point for aid that’s supposed to be distributed by backers of Juan Guaido, the congressional leader who is recognized by the U.S. as Venezuela’s legitimate president.

Previous aid shipments came on commercial planes.

Maduro has vowed to block the aid, which he calls unnecessary and illegal. He blames any hunger in the country on U.S. restrictions and his domestic foes.

Saturday’s 180-ton shipment includes food or health packages for more than 25,000 people.

 

US Military Planes Head for Venezuela With Aid

The U.S. Air Force has begun flying tons of aid to a Colombian town on the Venezuelan border as part of an effort meant to undermine socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

 

The first of three C-17 cargo planes took off Saturday from Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida and landed in the town of Cucuta. It’s a collection point for aid that’s supposed to be distributed by backers of Juan Guaido, the congressional leader who is recognized by the U.S. as Venezuela’s legitimate president.

Previous aid shipments came on commercial planes.

Maduro has vowed to block the aid, which he calls unnecessary and illegal. He blames any hunger in the country on U.S. restrictions and his domestic foes.

Saturday’s 180-ton shipment includes food or health packages for more than 25,000 people.

 

Gone in a New York Minute: How the Amazon Deal Fell Apart

In early November, word began to leak that Amazon was serious about choosing New York to build a giant new campus. The city was eager to lure the company and its thousands of high-paying tech jobs, offering billions in tax incentives and lighting the Empire State Building in Amazon orange.

Even Governor Andrew Cuomo got in on the action: “I’ll change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that’s what it takes,” he joked at the time.

Then Amazon made it official: It chose the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens to build a $2.5 billion campus that could house 25,000 workers, in addition to new offices planned for northern Virginia. Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Democrats who have been political adversaries for years, trumpeted the decision as a major coup after edging out more than 230 other proposals.

But what they didn’t expect was the protests, the hostile public hearings and the disparaging tweets that would come in the next three months, eventually leading to Amazon’s dramatic Valentine’s Day breakup with New York.

Immediately after Amazon’s Nov. 12 announcement, criticism started to pour in. The deal included $1.5 billion in special tax breaks and grants for the company, but a closer look at the total package revealed it to be worth at least $2.8 billion. Some of the same politicians who had signed a letter to woo Amazon were now balking at the tax incentives.

“Offering massive corporate welfare from scarce public resources to one of the wealthiest corporations in the world at a time of great need in our state is just wrong,” said New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris and New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, Democrats who represent the Long Island City area, in a joint statement.

The next day, CEO Jeff Bezos was on the cover of The New York Post in a cartoon-like illustration, hanging out of a helicopter, holding money bags in each hand, with cash billowing above the skyline. “QUEENS RANSOM,” the headline screamed. The New York Times editorial board, meanwhile, called the deal a “bad bargain” for the city: “We won’t know for 10 years whether the promised 25,000 jobs will materialize,” it said.

Anti-Amazon rallies were planned for the next week. Protesters stormed a New York Amazon bookstore on the day after Thanksgiving and then went to a rally on the steps of a courthouse near the site of the new headquarters in the pouring rain. Some held cardboard boxes with Amazon’s smile logo turned upside down.

In this Nov. 14, 2018 file photo, protesters hold up anti-Amazon signs during a coalition rally and press conference of elected officials, community organizations and unions opposing Amazon headquarters getting subsidies to locate in New York.

They had a long list of grievances: the deal was done secretively; Amazon, one of the world’s most valuable companies, didn’t need nearly $3 billion in tax incentives; rising rents could push people out of the neighborhood; and the company was opposed to unionization.

The helipad kept coming up, too: Amazon, in its deal with the city, was promised it could build a spot to land a helicopter on or near the new offices.

At the first public hearing in December, which turned into a hostile, three-hour interrogation of two Amazon executives by city lawmakers, the helipad was mentioned more than a dozen times. The image of high-paid executives buzzing by a nearby low-income housing project became a symbol of corporate greed.

Queens residents soon found postcards from Amazon in their mailboxes, trumpeting the benefits of the project. Gianaris sent his own version, calling the company “Scamazon” and urging people to call Bezos and tell him to stay in Seattle.

At a second city council hearing in January, Amazon’s vice president for public policy, Brian Huseman, subtly suggested that perhaps the company’s decision to come to New York could be reversed.

“We want to invest in a community that wants us,” he said.

Then came a sign that Amazon’s opponents might actually succeed in derailing the deal: In early February, Gianaris was tapped for a seat on a little-known state panel that often has to approve state funding for big economic development projects. That meant if Amazon’s deal went before the board, Gianaris could kill it.

“I’m not looking to negotiate a better deal,” Gianaris said at the time. “I am against the deal that has been proposed.”

Cuomo had the power to block Gianaris’ appointment, but he didn’t indicate whether he would take that step.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s own doubts about the project started to show. On Feb. 8, The Washington Post reported that the company was having second thoughts about the Queens location.

On Wednesday, Cuomo brokered a meeting with four top Amazon executives and the leaders of three unions critical of the deal. The union leaders walked away with the impression that the parties had an agreed upon framework for further negotiations, said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union.

“We had a good conversation. We talked about next steps. We shook hands,” Appelbaum said.

An Amazon representative did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

The final blow landed Thursday, when Amazon announced on a blog post that it was backing out, surprising the mayor, who had spoken to an Amazon executive Monday night and received “no indication” that the company would bail.

Amazon still expected the deal to be approved, according to a source familiar with Amazon’s thinking, but that the constant criticism from politicians didn’t make sense for the company to grow there.

“I was flabbergasted,” De Blasio said. “Why on earth after all of the effort we all put in would you simply walk away?”

Gone in a New York Minute: How the Amazon Deal Fell Apart

In early November, word began to leak that Amazon was serious about choosing New York to build a giant new campus. The city was eager to lure the company and its thousands of high-paying tech jobs, offering billions in tax incentives and lighting the Empire State Building in Amazon orange.

Even Governor Andrew Cuomo got in on the action: “I’ll change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that’s what it takes,” he joked at the time.

Then Amazon made it official: It chose the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens to build a $2.5 billion campus that could house 25,000 workers, in addition to new offices planned for northern Virginia. Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Democrats who have been political adversaries for years, trumpeted the decision as a major coup after edging out more than 230 other proposals.

But what they didn’t expect was the protests, the hostile public hearings and the disparaging tweets that would come in the next three months, eventually leading to Amazon’s dramatic Valentine’s Day breakup with New York.

Immediately after Amazon’s Nov. 12 announcement, criticism started to pour in. The deal included $1.5 billion in special tax breaks and grants for the company, but a closer look at the total package revealed it to be worth at least $2.8 billion. Some of the same politicians who had signed a letter to woo Amazon were now balking at the tax incentives.

“Offering massive corporate welfare from scarce public resources to one of the wealthiest corporations in the world at a time of great need in our state is just wrong,” said New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris and New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, Democrats who represent the Long Island City area, in a joint statement.

The next day, CEO Jeff Bezos was on the cover of The New York Post in a cartoon-like illustration, hanging out of a helicopter, holding money bags in each hand, with cash billowing above the skyline. “QUEENS RANSOM,” the headline screamed. The New York Times editorial board, meanwhile, called the deal a “bad bargain” for the city: “We won’t know for 10 years whether the promised 25,000 jobs will materialize,” it said.

Anti-Amazon rallies were planned for the next week. Protesters stormed a New York Amazon bookstore on the day after Thanksgiving and then went to a rally on the steps of a courthouse near the site of the new headquarters in the pouring rain. Some held cardboard boxes with Amazon’s smile logo turned upside down.

In this Nov. 14, 2018 file photo, protesters hold up anti-Amazon signs during a coalition rally and press conference of elected officials, community organizations and unions opposing Amazon headquarters getting subsidies to locate in New York.

They had a long list of grievances: the deal was done secretively; Amazon, one of the world’s most valuable companies, didn’t need nearly $3 billion in tax incentives; rising rents could push people out of the neighborhood; and the company was opposed to unionization.

The helipad kept coming up, too: Amazon, in its deal with the city, was promised it could build a spot to land a helicopter on or near the new offices.

At the first public hearing in December, which turned into a hostile, three-hour interrogation of two Amazon executives by city lawmakers, the helipad was mentioned more than a dozen times. The image of high-paid executives buzzing by a nearby low-income housing project became a symbol of corporate greed.

Queens residents soon found postcards from Amazon in their mailboxes, trumpeting the benefits of the project. Gianaris sent his own version, calling the company “Scamazon” and urging people to call Bezos and tell him to stay in Seattle.

At a second city council hearing in January, Amazon’s vice president for public policy, Brian Huseman, subtly suggested that perhaps the company’s decision to come to New York could be reversed.

“We want to invest in a community that wants us,” he said.

Then came a sign that Amazon’s opponents might actually succeed in derailing the deal: In early February, Gianaris was tapped for a seat on a little-known state panel that often has to approve state funding for big economic development projects. That meant if Amazon’s deal went before the board, Gianaris could kill it.

“I’m not looking to negotiate a better deal,” Gianaris said at the time. “I am against the deal that has been proposed.”

Cuomo had the power to block Gianaris’ appointment, but he didn’t indicate whether he would take that step.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s own doubts about the project started to show. On Feb. 8, The Washington Post reported that the company was having second thoughts about the Queens location.

On Wednesday, Cuomo brokered a meeting with four top Amazon executives and the leaders of three unions critical of the deal. The union leaders walked away with the impression that the parties had an agreed upon framework for further negotiations, said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union.

“We had a good conversation. We talked about next steps. We shook hands,” Appelbaum said.

An Amazon representative did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

The final blow landed Thursday, when Amazon announced on a blog post that it was backing out, surprising the mayor, who had spoken to an Amazon executive Monday night and received “no indication” that the company would bail.

Amazon still expected the deal to be approved, according to a source familiar with Amazon’s thinking, but that the constant criticism from politicians didn’t make sense for the company to grow there.

“I was flabbergasted,” De Blasio said. “Why on earth after all of the effort we all put in would you simply walk away?”

Pence Rebukes Europe Over Iran, Venezuela, Russia Links

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence strongly criticized European allies Saturday for their stance on Iran and Venezuela, in a speech at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

“The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining U.S. sanctions against this murderous, revolutionary regime. The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal,” Pence told delegates.

He also called on allies to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela. More than 20 European states have done so, but the European Union has stopped short of fully recognizing Guaido as president. Disputed president Nicholas Maduro is widely accused of vote-rigging to win last years’ election, while the country is mired in poverty and hyperinflation.

“Once more the Old World can take a strong stand in support of freedom in the New World. Today we call on the European Union to step forward for freedom and recognize Juan Guaido as the only legitimate president of Venezuela,” Pence said.

China repeatedly was singled out by the vice president as a threat to the United States and its allies.

“The United States has also been very clear with our security partners on the threat posed by Huawei and other Chinese telecom companies, as Chinese law requires them to provide Beijing’s vast security apparatus with access to any data that touches their network or equipment.”

Pence repeated Washington’s calls for European NATO allies to do more to meet their military spending targets — and cautioned against developing economic links with Moscow, such as the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline currently under construction between Russia and Germany.

“We cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East,” Pence said.

Moscow’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took the stage later Saturday, and said Europe was losing out because of its stance on Russia.

“At a time when the Europeans allowed to draw themselves into a senseless standoff with Russia and incurred multi-billion-dollar losses from the sanctions pushed for from overseas, the world is rapidly changing. Actually, the EU has lost its monopoly on the regional integration agenda,” Lavrov said.

China’s senior delegate did not respond directly to the accusations made by Vice President Pence, but instead he offered a defense of multilateralism.

“Our world stands at a crossroads and faces a consequential choice between unilateralism and multilateralism, conflict and dialogue, isolation and openness,” Yang Jiechi, a senior member of the politburo and a former Chinese ambassador to the U.S., told delegates.

Those sentiments were earlier echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who strongly criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s claims that Europe was taking advantage of America on trade.

The Munich Security Conference is seen as a key annual forum for world leaders to discuss global security concerns and conflicts — both in public and in private — in dozens of closed-door meetings taking place inside the venue.

The atmosphere this year is one of apprehension, according to analyst Florence Gaub of the European Union Institute for Security Studies.

“There is still a lot of grief over the old order being gone where everything was much more predictable, or at least appeared to be more predictable. So that’s slowly setting in,” said Gaub.

The tone of the conference speeches suggests that even among allies, tensions over a changing world order are no closer to being solved.

Pence Rebukes Europe Over Iran, Venezuela, Russia Links

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence strongly criticized European allies Saturday for their stance on Iran and Venezuela, in a speech at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

“The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining U.S. sanctions against this murderous, revolutionary regime. The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal,” Pence told delegates.

He also called on allies to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela. More than 20 European states have done so, but the European Union has stopped short of fully recognizing Guaido as president. Disputed president Nicholas Maduro is widely accused of vote-rigging to win last years’ election, while the country is mired in poverty and hyperinflation.

“Once more the Old World can take a strong stand in support of freedom in the New World. Today we call on the European Union to step forward for freedom and recognize Juan Guaido as the only legitimate president of Venezuela,” Pence said.

China repeatedly was singled out by the vice president as a threat to the United States and its allies.

“The United States has also been very clear with our security partners on the threat posed by Huawei and other Chinese telecom companies, as Chinese law requires them to provide Beijing’s vast security apparatus with access to any data that touches their network or equipment.”

Pence repeated Washington’s calls for European NATO allies to do more to meet their military spending targets — and cautioned against developing economic links with Moscow, such as the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline currently under construction between Russia and Germany.

“We cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East,” Pence said.

Moscow’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took the stage later Saturday, and said Europe was losing out because of its stance on Russia.

“At a time when the Europeans allowed to draw themselves into a senseless standoff with Russia and incurred multi-billion-dollar losses from the sanctions pushed for from overseas, the world is rapidly changing. Actually, the EU has lost its monopoly on the regional integration agenda,” Lavrov said.

China’s senior delegate did not respond directly to the accusations made by Vice President Pence, but instead he offered a defense of multilateralism.

“Our world stands at a crossroads and faces a consequential choice between unilateralism and multilateralism, conflict and dialogue, isolation and openness,” Yang Jiechi, a senior member of the politburo and a former Chinese ambassador to the U.S., told delegates.

Those sentiments were earlier echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who strongly criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s claims that Europe was taking advantage of America on trade.

The Munich Security Conference is seen as a key annual forum for world leaders to discuss global security concerns and conflicts — both in public and in private — in dozens of closed-door meetings taking place inside the venue.

The atmosphere this year is one of apprehension, according to analyst Florence Gaub of the European Union Institute for Security Studies.

“There is still a lot of grief over the old order being gone where everything was much more predictable, or at least appeared to be more predictable. So that’s slowly setting in,” said Gaub.

The tone of the conference speeches suggests that even among allies, tensions over a changing world order are no closer to being solved.

Kim Jong Un to Arrive in Vietnam on Feb. 25 Ahead of Trump Summit

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will arrive in Vietnam on Feb. 25 ahead of a planned second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, three sources with direct knowledge of Kim’s schedule told Reuters on Saturday.

Trump and Kim are due to meet in Hanoi on Feb. 27 and 28 following their historic first meeting last June in Singapore. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday Washington aims to “get as far down the road as we can” at the summit.

Kim will meet with Vietnamese officials when he arrives in Hanoi, said the sources, who requested anonymity citing the sensitivity and secrecy surrounding the movements of the North Korean leader.

He will also visit the Vietnamese manufacturing base of Bac Ninh and the industrial port town of Hai Phong, one source said.

Vietnam’s president and general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, will meet Kim ahead of a planned trip by Trong to neighboring Laos, one of the sources with direct knowledge told Reuters.

A Reuters witness saw Kim’s close aide, Kim Chang Son, in Hanoi on Saturday visiting a government guesthouse and the Metropole and Melia hotels in the center of the capital.

Reuters was first to report last month that Hanoi was preparing to receive Kim for a state visit this month.

Communist-ruled Vietnam, which has embraced economic reforms and developed close diplomatic ties with its former foe the United States, has been widely touted as a model of reform for isolated and impoverished North Korea.

The former Cold War allies, which share a similar socialist ideology and exchanged military and political support during the Vietnam War, are eyeing a new chapter in relations following Hanoi’s opening up and embrace of the West. 

Kim Jong Un to Arrive in Vietnam on Feb. 25 Ahead of Trump Summit

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will arrive in Vietnam on Feb. 25 ahead of a planned second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, three sources with direct knowledge of Kim’s schedule told Reuters on Saturday.

Trump and Kim are due to meet in Hanoi on Feb. 27 and 28 following their historic first meeting last June in Singapore. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday Washington aims to “get as far down the road as we can” at the summit.

Kim will meet with Vietnamese officials when he arrives in Hanoi, said the sources, who requested anonymity citing the sensitivity and secrecy surrounding the movements of the North Korean leader.

He will also visit the Vietnamese manufacturing base of Bac Ninh and the industrial port town of Hai Phong, one source said.

Vietnam’s president and general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, will meet Kim ahead of a planned trip by Trong to neighboring Laos, one of the sources with direct knowledge told Reuters.

A Reuters witness saw Kim’s close aide, Kim Chang Son, in Hanoi on Saturday visiting a government guesthouse and the Metropole and Melia hotels in the center of the capital.

Reuters was first to report last month that Hanoi was preparing to receive Kim for a state visit this month.

Communist-ruled Vietnam, which has embraced economic reforms and developed close diplomatic ties with its former foe the United States, has been widely touted as a model of reform for isolated and impoverished North Korea.

The former Cold War allies, which share a similar socialist ideology and exchanged military and political support during the Vietnam War, are eyeing a new chapter in relations following Hanoi’s opening up and embrace of the West. 

Last Defenders of Islamic State’s Caliphate Surrounded

The last defenders of the Islamic State terror group’s self-proclaimed caliphate are surrounded in a small neighborhood in the eastern Syrian village of Baghuz, facing imminent defeat.

The assessment Saturday, from a commander of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, follows days of slow and difficult fighting as IS fighters cling to an ever-shrinking sliver of land, pausing only for intermittent negotiations over a possible surrender.

“In a very short time, we will spread the good tidings to the world of the military end of Daesh,” Jiya Furat, the SDF commander leading the final assault, told reporters during a news conference outside Baghuz.

Furat said the self-proclaimed caliphate, which once covered large swaths of Syria and Iraq, had been reduced to an area covering no more than about 600 square meters, and that IS fighters were coming under fire from every direction.

But efforts to finish off the final IS enclave have been slowed due to concerns about civilians, including the wives and children of the terror group’s fighters, trying to escape to safety.

“There have been some lapses in the battle as we continue to see hundreds of civilians still attempting to flee,” coalition spokesman, Col. Sean Ryan, told VOA via email Saturday. “Strikes have been reduced to help protect the civilians.”

Those civilians who have escaped say IS has been using them as human shields, shooting at them if and when they attempt to leave.

The SDF advance has also been slowed by IS’ use of booby traps and other improvised explosive devices [IEDs], and counterattacks using suicide bombers and cars or motorcycles laden with explosives.

There are also concerns about additional IS fighters hiding in what appears to be an extensive system of tunnels and caves.

Monitoring groups, including the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, reported a group of IS fighters launched a counterattack late Friday, targeting coalition-backed forces near the al-Azraq oilfield. But they said the assault was quickly repelled with the help of coalition warplanes.

Just days ago, coalition officials had described the fight against IS in its final hold-out of Baghuz as a clearing operation, with one top commander saying, “The end of the physical caliphate is at hand.”

And on Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump stirred up anticipation that a final declaration of victory over the IS was fast-approaching.

“We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate,” Trump said at the White House. “That’ll be announced over the next 24 hours.”

On Saturday, though, both coalition officials and the SDF suggested there was no longer any set timeline for an announcement.

U.S. officials have also been quick to point out that even once the last pocket of IS-held territory is taken, the fight will not be over.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany Saturday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence promised the U.S. would maintain a strong presence in the Middle East and would “track down” any remnants or offshoots of the Islamic State.

Top U.S. military officials have warned the terror group still has 20,000 to 30,000 followers, including fighters, spread across Syria and Iraq.  And they worry about the ability of their Syrian partners, in particular, to keep IS in check once U.S. troops withdraw.

The U.S. official has also been talking with other members of the coalition about increasing their help as U.S. troops prepare to leave. But so far, other coalition members, many of whom have no troops on the ground in Syria, have been unwilling to make any specific commitments.

“I think there’s a tremendous desire to have a security arrangement or mechanism that doesn’t result in a security vacuum. What that is…is still being developed,” a senior defense official said Friday on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

“We’ve been pretty clear that this is going to be a deliberate withdrawal,” the official added. “There’s a timeline associated with that that’s conditions-based. We’ve said publicly on a number of occasions that it will be here in months, not weeks and not years.”

Last Defenders of Islamic State’s Caliphate Surrounded

The last defenders of the Islamic State terror group’s self-proclaimed caliphate are surrounded in a small neighborhood in the eastern Syrian village of Baghuz, facing imminent defeat.

The assessment Saturday, from a commander of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, follows days of slow and difficult fighting as IS fighters cling to an ever-shrinking sliver of land, pausing only for intermittent negotiations over a possible surrender.

“In a very short time, we will spread the good tidings to the world of the military end of Daesh,” Jiya Furat, the SDF commander leading the final assault, told reporters during a news conference outside Baghuz.

Furat said the self-proclaimed caliphate, which once covered large swaths of Syria and Iraq, had been reduced to an area covering no more than about 600 square meters, and that IS fighters were coming under fire from every direction.

But efforts to finish off the final IS enclave have been slowed due to concerns about civilians, including the wives and children of the terror group’s fighters, trying to escape to safety.

“There have been some lapses in the battle as we continue to see hundreds of civilians still attempting to flee,” coalition spokesman, Col. Sean Ryan, told VOA via email Saturday. “Strikes have been reduced to help protect the civilians.”

Those civilians who have escaped say IS has been using them as human shields, shooting at them if and when they attempt to leave.

The SDF advance has also been slowed by IS’ use of booby traps and other improvised explosive devices [IEDs], and counterattacks using suicide bombers and cars or motorcycles laden with explosives.

There are also concerns about additional IS fighters hiding in what appears to be an extensive system of tunnels and caves.

Monitoring groups, including the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, reported a group of IS fighters launched a counterattack late Friday, targeting coalition-backed forces near the al-Azraq oilfield. But they said the assault was quickly repelled with the help of coalition warplanes.

Just days ago, coalition officials had described the fight against IS in its final hold-out of Baghuz as a clearing operation, with one top commander saying, “The end of the physical caliphate is at hand.”

And on Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump stirred up anticipation that a final declaration of victory over the IS was fast-approaching.

“We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate,” Trump said at the White House. “That’ll be announced over the next 24 hours.”

On Saturday, though, both coalition officials and the SDF suggested there was no longer any set timeline for an announcement.

U.S. officials have also been quick to point out that even once the last pocket of IS-held territory is taken, the fight will not be over.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany Saturday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence promised the U.S. would maintain a strong presence in the Middle East and would “track down” any remnants or offshoots of the Islamic State.

Top U.S. military officials have warned the terror group still has 20,000 to 30,000 followers, including fighters, spread across Syria and Iraq.  And they worry about the ability of their Syrian partners, in particular, to keep IS in check once U.S. troops withdraw.

The U.S. official has also been talking with other members of the coalition about increasing their help as U.S. troops prepare to leave. But so far, other coalition members, many of whom have no troops on the ground in Syria, have been unwilling to make any specific commitments.

“I think there’s a tremendous desire to have a security arrangement or mechanism that doesn’t result in a security vacuum. What that is…is still being developed,” a senior defense official said Friday on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

“We’ve been pretty clear that this is going to be a deliberate withdrawal,” the official added. “There’s a timeline associated with that that’s conditions-based. We’ve said publicly on a number of occasions that it will be here in months, not weeks and not years.”