At the surprise of allies in Syria and the region, President Donald Trump said on Thursday that U.S.-backed forces have managed to retake all of the territory in the war-ravaged country once claimed by ISIS.
The U.S.’ regional allies were taken by surprise by such a declaration, saying that the fight is not over.
“We just took over you know you kept hearing it was 90%, 92%, the caliphate in Syria, now it’s 100%, we just took over 100% caliphate, that means the area of the land we’re just have 100% so that’s good,” President Trump said while addressing U.S. troops at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska on his return trip from Hanoi.
But the Syrian Democratic Forces dismissed the statement, saying that although over a thousand civilians have left the last ISIS enclave, many still remain there.
Just recently, ISIS claimed responsibility for a deadly explosion in the Syrian city of Manbij, which killed 14 people, including two American service members. The incident raised serious questions about President Trump’s December decision to pull all troops from Syria, claiming that the terror group has been defeated.
The U.S. commander who has been leading the war against ISIS said in February that he did not agree with the President’s decision, warning that ISIS has not been defeated yet.
The top U.S. general in the Middle East, Joseph Votel, also contradicted Trump, stressing that the U.S.-backed forces in Syria were not ready to take on ISIS on their own.
“It would not have been my military advice at that particular time … I would not have made that suggestion, frankly. (The caliphate) still has leaders, still has fighters, it still has facilitators, it still has resources, so our continued military pressure is necessary to continue to go after that network,” he said regarding Trump’s announcement.
Votel added that only when ISIS no longer poses a threat to the U.S. and its allies could he say the terror group had been defeated. “They still have this very powerful ideology, so they can inspire,” he pointed out.
The general further said for CNN that even if ISIS was defeated in Syria and the terrain was liberated, it didn’t mean the organization would end.