The president of the United States reserved an announcement he had been teasing for weeks for a small group of U.S. troops on a stopover at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. During a 20-minute speech Thursday, he declared the self-described Islamic State caliphate in Syria had been completely defeated.
"You were hearing 90, 92 percent, caliphate in Syria," President Donald Trump told the group as his aircraft refueled in Anchorage en route to Washington, D.C., from a visit to Hanoi, Vietnam. "Now it's 100 percent; we just took over 100 percent caliphate. That means the area of land. ... We did that in a much shorter period of time than it was supposed to be."
Trump told a meeting of the Ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS on Feb. 6 that he expected a formal announcement that the caliphate was 100 percent defeated as soon as the following week. This is his first public announcement that the goal has been met.
The significance of this announcement has yet to be seen. The Associated Press reported Feb. 23 that hundreds or thousands of Syrians remain in hiding in Baghouz, the last pocket of the ISIS caliphate, with an estimated 300 militants under siege.
At the start of 2017 ISIS controlled more than 17,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria, with the capital of its so-called caliphate in Raqqa, Syria. In December 2017, Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi declared ISIS defeated in his country. By the end of 2018, the militant group’s territory was reduced to less than 200 square miles. CNN reported in early February that the group’s remaining footprint in Syria was just 1.5 square miles.
And while the once-sprawling caliphate has been reduced to nothing, or close to that, ISIS militants still maintain a presence in Syria, and the ideology is spreading to other corners of the globe.
After Trump announced a complete withdrawal of the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria in December, Pentagon officials confirmed this month that a small presence of reportedly 400 troops would stay in the country to assist with security and prevent an ISIS resurgence.
In testimony earlier this month on Capitol Hill, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, told lawmakers that in Syria “The fight against ISIS and violent extremists is not over and our mission has not changed.”
He added that U.S. troops would only depart the country entirely after the extremists had been completely defeated.