|Date: Feb 7, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Trump says may declare Daesh defeated as early as next week|
|WASHINGTON: U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he expected a formal announcement as early as next week that the coalition fighting Daesh (ISIS) militants has reclaimed all of the territory previously held by the extremist group.|
“Their land is gone. It’s a big factor,” Trump told foreign ministers and other senior officials from 79 countries that have worked alongside the United States in fighting the militant group in Syria and Iraq.
Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria has prompted some criticism at home from Republican and Democratic lawmakers who fear Daesh could regain strength.
Joseph Votel, a top U.S. Army general for the region, said in Senate testimony Tuesday that the group could experience a resurgence after a U.S. pullout.
Trump did not back down from his determination to withdraw, saying, “We look forward to giving our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home.”
“The United States military, our coalition partners and the Syrian Democratic Forces have liberated virtually all of the territory previously held by ISIS in Syria and Iraq,” Trump told the gathering at the State Department.
He said the achievement “should be formally announced, sometime, probably next week, that we will have 100 percent of the caliphate.”
Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reassured coalition partners that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria was not “the end of America’s fight” and called on them to help permanently defeat Daesh in Syria and Iraq.
“The U.S. troops withdrawing from Syria is not the end of America’s fight. The fight is one we will continue to wage alongside you,” Pompeo said.
“The drawdown in troops is essentially a tactical change, it is not a change in the mission. It simply represents a new stage in an old fight,” he added.
Warnings by Pompeo and others that Daesh remains a dangerous threat fly in the face of Trump’s December declaration that the militants had been defeated and the U.S. would withdraw its roughly 2,000 troops from Syria.The president’s sudden decision shocked coalition partners, including an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias that has been among the most effective against Daesh, and prompted the abrupt resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Wednesday’s meeting was the first of senior coalition officials since Trump announced U.S. troops would withdraw.
Participants included foreign ministers from Turkey, France, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco and Iraq.
Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab represented Lebanon at the meeting.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammad al-Hakim called on countries to help expose Daesh “sleeper cells” in Iraq and restore stability.
Activists who closely follow the conflict in Syria already point to signs of a growing insurgency.
Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group, says Daesh still has 4,000-5,000 fighters, many likely hiding out in desert caves and mountains.
Defense officials believe many fighters have fled to ungoverned spaces and other pockets in the north and west.
Pompeo said that despite progress in fighting Daesh in Iraq, the group retained a strong presence in the country and was trying to mount a clandestine insurgency.
“The coalition must continue to support the government of Iraq in its efforts to secure the liberated areas of that country,” Pompeo said. “Mr. Foreign Minister, we’re with you,” he told Hakim.
Earlier this week, Trump said it was important to keep a U.S. military presence in Iraq so that Washington could keep a close eye on Iran, according to a CBS interview aired Sunday.
However, Iraqi President Barham Salih said Monday that Trump did not ask Iraq’s permission for U.S. troops stationed there to “watch Iran.”
Hakim, apparently responding to Trump’s comment, called on countries Wednesday to show full “respect for the territorial integrity of Iraq and for all operations to take place with the knowledge of Iraq, and in consultations with Iraqi security forces.”