Less than a week after a deadly ISIS-claimed attack in Syria, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touted the gains the US and its partners have made in the fight against the terrorist organization.
“It should not go unnoticed that we’ve also defeated the ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq alongside more than six dozen nations in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS,” Pompeo said in remarks to the World Economic Forum delivered via satellite Tuesday.
Pompeo noted “there’s a lot more work to do,” but told those at the Davos, Switzerland, forum that “with your help I know we’ll achieve it.”
Members of the Trump administration have repeatedly sought to downplay ISIS’ reach and impact in Syria since President Donald Trump announced in December that the US would pull its troops from the war-torn nation.
In remarks last week at the State Department on the same day as the Manbij, Syria, blast that killed four Americans and at least 10 other people, Vice President Mike Pence declared that “the caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated.”
A White House official said the administration had not “publicly confirmed the deaths at the time (Pence) spoke,” even though the coalition against ISIS tweeted a message confirming there had been US deaths nearly an hour before his speech.
Pence released a statement later in the afternoon expressing condolences to “the loved ones of the fallen” and condemning the attack. However, the vice president maintained that the ISIS caliphate had been “devastated.”
Prior to the troop withdrawal announcement and his subsequent resignation, former special presidential envoy to the anti-ISIS coaliton Brett McGurk told reporters at the State Department that ISIS’ territorial holdings had indeed been depleted.
“We really are now down to the last 1% of the physical territory,” he said in December. However, he noted that it was a “very difficult campaign” to fully finish off the caliphate, and even those physical losses did not signify the end of the fight.
“Even as the end of the physical caliphate is clearly now coming into sight, the end of ISIS will be a much more long-term initiative,” he noted at the time. “We’ve talked about that many times. Nobody working on these issues day to day is complacent. Nobody is declaring a mission accomplished. Defeating a physical caliphate is one phase of a much longer-term campaign.”
McGurk reiterated that assessment in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.
“In early December, Secretary Mattis and I met with all the military contributors of our coalition, including many countries that had been attacked from ISIS out of Syria, and the unanimous view is that ISIS is not defeated, this mission is not over,” McGurk told Amanpour. “I do not think there would be a single expert that would walk in the Oval Office and tell the President that this is over.”
Pompeo recently returned from a lengthy trip to the Middle East, where he sought to assure allies of the US’ commitment to the region in light of the President’s unexpected announcement and the subsequent administration mixed messaging on the terms of the withdrawal. He spoke broadly during his time there of America as a partner and a “force for good,” but offered little in the way of specific actions for US policy going forward.
Asked about the US approach to issues in the Middle East on Tuesday, Pompeo again focused on a partnership between the US and its allies.
“We won’t do this alone. We will need coalitions built out to ensure that there’s Middle East stability. Our effort to develop our MESA (Middle East Strategic Alliance) program, where we have countries in the region determined to protect themselves together with America as their partner in that fight, is an important component of how America will approach this set of problems,” he said. “There are diplomatic and political solutions to most of these problems, and we need all of our diplomats from all across the region working to solve them.”