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Oct 24, 3:43 AM EDT

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says less than five percent of Syria remains under control of the Islamic State group


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MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's defense minister says less than five percent of Syria remains under control of the Islamic State group.

At the height of the rise of the IS the militants controlled about half of the territory of Syria before their downfall began.

Speaking at a conference in the Philippines, Sergei Shoigu said on Monday that "terrorists" controlled more than 70 percent of the country before Russia launched its air operation at the end of 2015 to support President Bashar Assad's offensive against IS militants and opposition forces.

Russian airstrikes destroyed more than 900 training camps and a multitude of heavy weaponry.

In recent weeks Russia focused efforts on the east of the country where a race is underway between U.S.-backed Syrian forces and government troops in the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province.

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