In Pictures: The Search for Explosives and ISIS Fighters Hidden Inside their Last Stronghold

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Smoke rises behind destroyed vehicles and damaged buildings in the village of Baghouz, a day after the Islamic State (IS) group's "caliphate" was declared defeated by the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Delil Souleiman/AFP

U.S.-backed Syrian fighters have begun combing through the shattered ruins of the last stronghold of the Islamic State group (ISIS) in a search for explosives and any surviving jihadist fighters.

The battle for the Syrian village of Baghouz lasted far longer than predicted. Ten weeks of gunfire and airstrikes have reduced the village to a horrific wasteland pocked with huge bomb craters, littered with burnt-out vehicles and bodies.

Hours after Saturday's triumphant announcement that ISIS no longer held any territory in Iraq or Syria, a local driver working with a team of journalists from NBC News was killed when an explosive device went off in a building that served as a media center.

A spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces told The Associated Press that the village of Baghouz is "full of all kinds of explosives." He said SDF forces have detonated land mines and suicide belts.

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An assortment of improvised explosive devices and explosive belts lying on the ground in the former Isis stronghold of Baghouz. Guiseppe Cacace/AFP

On Sunday, SDF forces arrested a number of militants found hiding in tunnels. An AFP reporter saw dozens of people—mostly men—leaving the encampment and boarding trucks. An SDF spokesman confirmed they were ISIS fighters who had emerged from tunnels and surrendered.

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A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) checks an Isis fighters' tunnel in Baghouz. Giuseppe Cacace/AFP
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Isis fighters board trucks after surrendering to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Baghouz. Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

The victory marks the end of a five-year campaign to end ISIS's self-declared caliphate, which once covered an area of Syria and Iraq as large as the U.K. and was home to some 8 million people.

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Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters pose for a photo with the American flag after a victory ceremony announcing the defeat of Isis in Baghouz. Chris McGrath/Getty Images
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Fighters of the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather to celebrate the total elimination of the last Isis bastion. Delil Souleiman/AFP

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump showed reporters two maps of Syria, one showing the areas ISIS controlled when he was elected in late 2016, and the other showing the present situation. "When I took over, it was a mess," Trump said, pointing to the red ISIS-controlled areas in the top map. "Now, at bottom ... there is no red. In fact, there's actually a tiny spot which will be gone by tonight. So that's ISIS red right there, and the bottom one is how it is today," he said.

However, an SDF spokesperson warned that the caliphate may be gone, but the militant group's threat was far from over. Kino Gabriel told The New York Times: "We cannot say that Isis is finished. It is true that they are finished on the ground as a standing army. But the ISS threat remains around the globe."

Many key members of ISIS's leadership remain unaccounted for, including its founder and leader, Abu-Bakr el Baghdadi. Some of its fighters are believed to be hiding in Syria's remote central desert, while others have gone underground to carry out insurgent attacks in Iraqi cities.

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People are seen fleeing as a cloud of dust and smoke rises above the village of Baghouz on March 18, 2019 during the battle for the final Isis stronghold. Giuseppe Cacace/AFP
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Ten weeks of fierce fighting battle have reduced the village to a smoking wasteland, pocked with bomb craters and burnt-out vehicles. Giuseppe Cacace/AFP
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A cat walks past a destroyed building in the village of Sousa, near Baghouz, March 21, 2019. Giuseppe Cacace/AFP
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A landmine is seen lying on the ground in the village of Baghouz. Giuseppe Cacace/AFP
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An Isis improvised armored vehicle is abandoned in Baghouz. Giuseppe Cacace/AFP
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A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces inspects a discarded suicide belt in the village of Baghouz. Giuseppe Cacace/AFP
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A discarded book written in Arabic and Russian lies next to a broken gun in the village of Baghouz. Chris McGrath/Getty Images
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Seized weapons that were found in Baghouz, the last Isis stronghold, are displayed at an SDF base outside Al Mayadin on March 22, 2019 Chris McGrath/Getty Images
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Chris McGrath/Getty Images