Holding a map in his hand, Trump said on March 20, he said that “we’re leaving 200 people there, and 200 people in another place in Syria, closer to Israel.”
He showed a map on Election Night in November 2016 showing a significant portion of Iraq and Syria controlled by the terrorist group.
Trump on Wednesday said ISIS will be “gone by tonight” and held up a pair of maps to reporters that he claimed shows the dramatic reduction of the Islamic State’s presence in Syria since his election in 2016 https://t.co/u7WqOVz8gn pic.twitter.com/3YzQn6Gyv1
— POLITICO (@politico) March 20, 2019
“When I took it over, it was a mess,” Trump declared to reporters in Washington.
Pointing to the bottom, which showed virtually no territory controlled by ISIS, “there is no red,” Trump said.
There is a “tiny spot which will be gone by tonight,” he said. “This just came out 20 minutes ago,” he said.
“That’s the way it goes,” he added.
Asked about eliminating ISIS in Syria, Pres Trump pulls out two maps that show ISIS sites in red on the day he was elected, and the bottom map shows only a tiny red spot for ISIS that he says will be “gone by tonight.” pic.twitter.com/aqA0V9pkRv
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) March 20, 2019
In December, Trump announced he would pull thousands of American troops from Afghanistan and Syria.
Late last month, Trump called on European countries to take back ISIS fighters who have been captured, adding that they should be put on trial.
“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial. The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them,” Trump tweeted.
Trump said that it is time for European nations “to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!”
Lt. Gen. Paul LaCamera, the top U.S. general in Iraq and Syria, it’s not clear what will happen to these captured ISIS fighters.
“Now here’s the real challenge: if you joined ISIS, you handed over your passport, you handed over your ID card, you handed over your birth certificate and that was destroyed and you were issued into ISIS—so the real question is, it’s not just the prisoners, the detainees, it’s what are we going to do with these stateless people?” LaCamera told reporters.
“It’s not just the detainees—it is those that have been displaced by ISIS or don’t have an identity,” LaCamera added. “How are we going to deal with them? You know, will the Iraqis take them? And again, if you’re a refugee, you can’t force them back, right?”
Update on the War
According to Reuters, in an update on March 20, the operation to take the last enclave of ISIS in eastern Syria looked close to an end on Wednesday.
Reuters reporters overlooking Baghouz from a hill on the bank of the Euphrates at the Iraqi border said the area was calm, and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia searched for tunnels and landmines, an SDF official said.
The SDF on Tuesday captured an encampment where the jihadists had been mounting a last defense of the tiny enclave, pushing diehard fighters onto a sliver of land at the Euphrates riverside.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drain, whose country has participated in the campaign, said in Paris he expected the announcement of the “final territorial defeat” to be made in the “next few days.”
There was no immediate update from the SDF on Wednesday on the fate of these remaining militants. A group of women and children were seen being evacuated from the Baghouz area.
Reuters noted that some of ISIS’s fighters remain holed up in the central Syrian desert and others have gone underground in Iraqi cities to wage an insurgent campaign to destabilize the government.
Over the past two months, some 60,000 people, mostly women and children, have poured out of shrinking IS territory, said the SDF. Relatives and former residents told Reuters that many of them were Iraqi Arab Sunni Muslim families who crossed into Syria fleeing revenge by Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim militias that had overrun their towns.
The SDF has said that among the civilians who fled were some ISIS victims such as enslaved women from Iraq’s Yazidi religious community.
The SDF estimated at least 5,000 fighters surrendered. In recent days, as the enclave shrank, the SDF said hundreds more of them started to surrender, or were captured trying to escape.
Most of the women and children who were detained were moved to displacement camps in northeast Syria. The fighters were taken to security prisons, but the SDF has urged foreign countries to take back their citizens, causing a dilemma for some Western states who regard them as a menace.
Reuters contributed to this report.