US vows IS fight despite Syria pullout

US vows IS fight despite Syria pullout

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Donald Trump at the conference in Washington, 6 February Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Donald Trump: “Their land is gone”

US President Donald Trump has said territory held by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq could be “100%” liberated as early as next week.

“It should be announced, probably some time next week, that we will have 100% of the caliphate,” he told a gathering of coalition partners.

However, he also cautioned that he wanted to “wait for the official word”.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged the US would continue to fight IS, despite withdrawing troops from Syria.

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Mr Trump shocked coalition allies in December when he declared that the group had been defeated, amid reports he wanted to pull out US soldiers within 30 days.

But he later slowed the withdrawal after several resignations from key defence officials and strong criticism from Republicans and allies abroad.

The global coalition against IS, now numbering nearly 80 nations, was formed in 2014 after the group overran swathes of territory and went on to launch terror attacks outside the region.

How does Trump view the battle against IS now?

“Their land is gone,” he told Wednesday’s conference in Washington. “The Isis [IS] caliphate has been decimated. Nobody thought we could do it this quickly.”

But the group still had “tiny sections that can be so dangerous”, he said, and “foreign fighters must not gain access” to the US.

“You are always going to have people, they are sick they are demented,” he said. “You are always going to have them no matter how well you do well militarily.”

Image copyright AFP

Image caption US ground troops first became involved in Syria in 2015

He also referred to the Islamic State group’s propaganda machine, which recruited fighters from Europe and other regions.

“For a period of time they used the internet better than we did,” he said. “They used the internet brilliantly but now it’s not so brilliant.”

The US leader thanked coalition partners, saying, “We will be working together for many years to come.

“Someday, maybe we won’t even have to think about this problem that is so prevalent today,” he added.

In his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Mr Trump said “virtually all” of the group’s territory in Syria and Iraq had been liberated.

“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” he said, backing his decision to withdraw.

What did Pompeo say?

He called the troop pullout “a new stage in an old fight”. It was, he said, a “tactical change… not a change in the mission”.

Image copyright AFP

Image caption A suspected IS member captured by US-backed forces near the Syrian border with Iraq last week

“The US troops withdrawing from Syria is not the end of America’s fight,” he told the conference. “The fight is one we’ll continue to wage alongside you.”

He said the world was entering “an era of decentralised jihad”, and said the US would call on its allies for help “very soon”.

“We ask that our coalition partners seriously and rapidly consider requests that will enable our efforts to continue,” he said.

US asks allies for more

By Barbara Plett Usher, BBC state department correspondent

Mike Pompeo said President Trump’s surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria was a tactical change, not a change in the US mission or commitment.

But he called on other nations to do more in the continued fight against IS, by providing funds to help stabilise liberated areas in Syria and Iraq and by repatriating and prosecuting foreign fighters jailed by America’s Kurdish allies in Syria.

Mr Trump did not consult members of this anti-IS coalition when he decided to bring US troops home, or with the US general who oversees troops in the Middle East, Joseph Votel.

Gen Votel told a Senate committee this week that without sustained counterterrorism pressure the IS militants would regroup.

Has IS been defeated?

Republicans, military officials and US allies abroad have all questioned Mr Trump’s assertion that IS has been defeated.

On Tuesday the head of the US military’s Central Command, Gen Votel, told a Senate committee up to 1,500 IS militants remain in a 20 sq mile (52 sq km) pocket on Syria’s border with Iraq.

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Gen Votel said the anti-IS coalition needed to secure its hard-won gains by “maintaining a vigilant offensive” against the group, which still has “leaders, fighters, facilitators, resources and the profane ideology that fuels their efforts”.

Meanwhile, a report by a US defence department watchdog cited Central Command as saying that without sustained pressure IS “could likely resurge in Syria within six to 12 months”.

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