WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump predicted Wednesday that the Islamic State group will have lost by next week all the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria. He said the U.S. will not relent in fighting remnants of the extremist organization despite his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria over the objections of some of his most senior national security advisers.
The president told representatives of a 79-member, U.S.-led coalition fighting IS that the militants held a tiny percentage of the vast territory they claimed as their “caliphate.”
“It should be formally announced sometime, probably next week, that we will have 100 percent of the caliphate,” Trump said.
U.S. officials have said in recent weeks that IS has lost 99.5 percent of its territory and is holding on to fewer than 5 square kilometers in Syria, or less than 2 square miles, in the villages of the Middle Euphrates River Valley, where the bulk of the fighters are concentrated.
But there are fears the impending U.S. pullout will imperil those gains. Trump told coalition members meeting at the State Department that while “remnants” of the group were still dangerous, he was determined to bring U.S. troops home. He called on coalition members to step up and do their “fair share” in the fight against terrorism.
Even as Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the withdrawal decision, which shocked U.S. allies and led to the resignations of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the U.S. envoy to the anti-IS coalition, Brett McGurk, some military leaders, renewed their concerns.
While the withdrawal would fulfill a Trump goal, top military officials have pushed back for months, arguing IS remains a threat and could regroup. U.S. policy had been to keep troops in place until the extremists are completely eradicated.