U.S. President Donald Trump said during a visit to the State Department on Feb. 6 that he is confident troops fighting ISIS will be announcing the 100 percent defeat of the self-proclaimed caliphate within a week.
“It should be formally announced, probably sometime next week, that we will have 100 percent of the caliphate,” he said. “[T]he ISIS caliphate has been decimated.”
Trump praised the combined efforts of the United States military, coalition partners, and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces who together have “eliminated more than 60-mile high-value ISIS leaders” and incurred ISIS other significant losses. “[T]ens of thousands of ISIS fighters are gone. They’re gone,” he said.
“We’ve eliminated almost every one of them,” he told representatives from the 79-member coalition.
The president said that although ISIS is “always going to have people,” as there is no military solution to defeat the “demented” ideology, “ISIS can no longer claim widespread ownership over local governments in Syria and Iraq.”
“Their land is gone,” he said.
While recognizing that after the defeat, there will always remain ISIS remnants that “can be very dangerous,” Trump said that the U.S. coalition will continue to work together with other countries across the region to “search them out.”
Troops to Come HomeTrump also reiterated that his administration is continuing to work toward bringing home the 2,000 U.S. forces who have been helping fight ISIS in Syria as other countries in the region “step up their commitments.”
“We look forward to giving our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome back home,” Trump said.
Defense officials have confirmed that some equipment has already has been moved out of Syria, and that plans for the withdrawing of troops are being formulated with the help of allies and partners on the ground.
Commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East Gen. Joseph Votel told lawmakers during a hearing Feb. 5, “I am not under pressure to be out by a specific date and I’ve not had any specific conditions put upon me.”
He said that the United States and its partners will continue to maintain pressure on ISIS cells in Syria and beyond.
Trump sent a tweet that work toward the pullout would continue alongside operations to ensure the complete destruction of ISIS, saying that he did not want the Kurdish forces to provoke Turkey into war.
White House officials have been insisting that the time has come for other nations to step up their contributions to the fight.
“[Trump] doesn’t believe that the United States can solve this problem externally,” a senior administration official said when asked about delivering ISIS an enduring defeat.
“He thinks it is something we can assist with, it’s something we can encourage, but that that has to come from within the Muslim community,” the official added.
The official also said that the withdrawal from Syria would be “conditions-based,” with U.S. forces staying in the vicinity of the U.S. base at al-Tanf, in southern Syria, until the very end.
And the president himself said Wednesday that even then, U.S. forces would stand ready to assist.
“Rest assured, we will do what it takes to defeat every ounce and every last person within the ISIS madness,” Trump told ministers from coalition countries.
“The struggle against terrorism is a shared fight,” he added. “Everyone must do their part and contribute their fair share.”
Trump is not alone in viewing that investment as ill-advised. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said of the exit from Syria, “All of the naysayers in Washington will be against him. But, guess what? If you ask the American people, this is why President Trump won the election.”
The White House and other top U.S. officials have also been working to reassure those concerned that the withdrawal will not impact U.S. allies, like the Kurds, or efforts to deal ISIS a lasting defeat.
Tactical ChangeSecretary of State Mike Pompeo told coalition members earlier on Feb. 6 that while the “nature of the fight is changing,” U.S. goals remained the same.
“It simply represents a new stage in an old fight,” Pompeo said in opening remarks at the conference.
“The drawdown of troops is essentially a tactical change. It is not a change in the mission,” he added. “The fight is one that we will continue to wage alongside you.”