WASHINGTON, D.C.: US President Donald Trump on Thursday (Friday in Manila) declared that the Islamic State group is crumbling, as he met with Pentagon officials to discuss America’s military campaigns and progress in eradicating “radical Islamic terrorism.”
“We’re doing very well against ISIS. ISIS is falling fast, very fast,” Trump said as he arrived at the Defense Department.
Trump campaigned heavily on the promise to defeat IS, and during his inaugural address he promised to “unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.”
The jihadists are far from being wiped out, but the Trump White House can boast of some big wins against the extremists, who this month lost their one-time bastion of Mosul in Iraq.
Trump signed an executive order soon after taking office instructing his generals to come up with a revised plan to wipe the jihadists out. Though the strategy has yet to be fully unveiled, parts of it are already in play.
Like the Obama administration’s strategy, it relies on air power and the training of local troops to conduct the ground war in Iraq and Syria.
The biggest change Trump has made is giving Pentagon chief Jim Mattis new authorities to set troop levels and to move forces more quickly around the battlefield.
The president also decided to arm Kurdish fighters battling IS in Syria, much to the dismay of ally Turkey, which views the fighters as “terrorists.”
A common complaint under Barack Obama was that his White House micromanaged every detail of the campaign, needlessly slowing down battlefield decisions.
Trump has given Mattis and his commanders more power to call in strikes and make decisions, rather than checking everything with Washington or US Central Command in Florida.
Critics say this has led to soaring civilian casualties in Mosul and in Syria’s Raqa, where tolls have jumped in recent months.
The Pentagon disputes this, saying it has not changed its rules of engagement and pointing to the reality of warfare in packed urban centers.
Mattis has also launched an “annihilation campaign” against IS in which the jihadists are encircled and killed in place rather than being allowed to flee.
Trump spoke briefly about IS as he arrived at the Pentagon, where he attended a strategy meeting to discuss the fight against the jihadists and America’s other military engagements.
The president’s brief comments actually came after he was asked whether he would be sending troops to Afghanistan, where the US has been since late 2001.
“We’ll see,” he said.
Pentagon officials have said Mattis is considering adding around 4,000 troops to augment the current “train and advise” mission for local forces.
IS also has a footprint in Afghanistan, but the Pentagon has said fewer than 1,000 IS fighters remain there, mainly in Nangarhar province.
Also attending Thursday’s meeting at the Pentagon were Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mattis and Tillerson have visited Congress this week to brief members of both chambers about the progress in the anti-IS campaign.