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British Prime Minister Theresa May walks during her visit to RAF Akrotiri, one of two military bases Britain maintains on the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus, December 22, 2017. REUTERS/Petros Karadjias/Pool


AKROTIRI, Cyprus (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday told British forces in Cyprus that they should be proud of helping to crush the caliphate declared by the militants of Islamic State.

Speaking at Britain's RAF Akrotiri base, May said facilities on the island were the "epicentre" of operations against Islamic State, which she called Daesh.

"Today, thanks in very large part to your efforts, the so-called Caliphate has been crushed, and no longer holds significant territory in Iraq or Syria," May told about 200 members of the armed forces.

"You should be incredibly proud of that achievement."

Akrotiri has been used as a staging post for attacks against Islamic State, now largely defeated after attempting to set up a radical theocratic state or caliphate across swathes of Iraq and Syria.

"We need to continue to deal directly with the threat they still pose in the region," May added, standing in front of a Tornado and a Typhoon fighter jet parked outside a hangar.

"We also need to focus on training the Iraqi security forces so they can keep Daesh out."

May later met with British families.

Britain has about 3,100 military personnel stationed at two compounds in Cyprus. It retained sovereignty over about 98 square miles, or 3 percent, of the island's territory after granting independence to the colony in 1960.

RAF Akrotiri hosts an Expeditionary Airforce Wing that supports operation SHADER, Britain's codename for attacks on Islamic State targets in Iraq.

More than 1,600 air strikes on Islamic State targets have been launched from the facility since 2015 as part of a campaign by a U.S.-led multinational coalition.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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