WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that by next week he may be able to formally confirm that the Islamic State terror organization has lost all the territory it once controlled.
At present, the group commonly referred to as ISIS is clinging to just 1 percent of the territory it claimed as its “caliphate” in western Iraq and eastern Syria, the 79-member international coalition fighting the extremists says.
At the height of the group’s power in late 2014 and early 2015, it controlled a vast swath of territory that stretched from the outskirts of Baghdad to central Syria, including the major cities of Mosul and Raqqa.
“It should be formally announced sometime, probably next week, that we will have 100 percent of the caliphate,” Trump said at a summit of the coalition in Washington. “But I want to wait for the official word. I don’t want to say it too early.”
The coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces alliance, which is led by Kurdish militias and has made major gains against ISIS, has reported in recent weeks on its progress fighting the militants in their last sliver of territory in Syria’s Deir al-Zour province.
The campaign to wrest control of that ISIS foothold on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River began in September.
“The ISIS caliphate has been decimated,” Trump said, adding that “you’re always going to have people, they’ll be around. They’re sick. They’re demented. But you’re going to have them no matter how well we do militarily.”
Trump gave his speech at the State Department to representatives of the coalition, which is made up of 75 countries and four international organizations, including the European Union, Interpol and NATO.
Earlier Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began Wednesday’s summit with a speech aimed at calming allies, stating that Trump’s decision – announced in December – to withdraw 2,000 US troops deployed in Syria does not mean the end of the struggle against the extremists.
Trump had initially said the soldiers would leave immediately but later said the drawdown would be gradual.
Pompeo on Wednesday provided further reassurances.
“The fight is one we will continue to wage alongside you,” the secretary said. “The drawdown of American troops is essentially a tactical change. It is not a change in the mission. It does not change the structure, the design or authorities on which campaign has been based.”
“It simply represents a new stage in an old fight,” he said, adding that the troops’ departure would be well coordinated and that the US would remain engaged with its allies in Syria.