Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Wednesday that ISIS was not “in a resurgent state in Syria” despite a Pentagon inspector general report saying the terror group is re-surging in that country.
“I don’t agree that ISIS is in a resurgent state in Syria, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t seen them spring up in places like Afghanistan,” Esper said in an interview with Fox News, his first since becoming Defense secretary.
His comments appear to be at odds with a report from the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General published earlier this month, which said ISIS was “re-surging” in Syria following President Donald Trump’s decision to reduce troops there.
“Despite losing its territorial ‘caliphate,’ the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was re-surging in Syria,” the report said.
Trump initially sought to withdraw all US troops from Syria but later opted to keep a residual force in place.
At the height of the anti-ISIS campaign the US had just under 3,000 troops in Syria. Those numbers have been reduced by more than half, according to officials.
The report said that reduction had made it harder for the US to advise America’s local allies including the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces who have led the fight on the ground.
The Afghanistan branch of ISIS also continues to pose a threat, claiming responsibility for a recent terrorist attack on a wedding in Kabul that killed dozens.
Trump on Wednesday called on other countries to take a greater responsibility in combating ISIS.
“At a certain point all of these other countries where ISIS is around … all of the countries are gonna have to fight ‘em. Because do we want to stay there for another 19 years? I don’t think so,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn. The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, less than 18 years ago.
“So at a certain point, other countries and that includes Russia and that includes Iran and Turkey and Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and India. Look India’s right there. They’re not fighting it – we’re fighting it,” he added.