The battle against the Islamic State group is “far from over” and the jihadists remain unbroken and prepared for a resurgence despite the elimination of their physical base in Syria, a top US commander said Thursday.
“Reduction of the physical caliphate is a monumental military accomplishment — but the fight against ISIS and violent extremism is far from over and our mission remains the same,” General Joseph Votel, head of the US Central Command, told Congress.
“The ISIS population being evacuated from the remaining vestiges of the caliphate largely remains unrepentant, unbroken and radicalized. We will need to maintain a vigilant offensive against this now widely dispersed and disaggregated organization,” he said.
Announcing the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, President Donald Trump blindsided the defense establishment with his December tweet declaring the Islamic State “defeated.”
Defense officials were quick to tamper the president’s claims, insisting the battle against the jihadist group was nowhere near over, despite major advances against the Islamic State’s territorial bases.
US intelligence chiefs have repeatedly warned that a precipitous US withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan could allow a resurgence by militant groups IS and Al-Qaeda.
Currently, about 2,000 US forces are in Syria, most of them on a train-and-advise mission to support local forces fighting IS.
Most US forces are stationed in northern Syria, though a small contingent is based at a garrison in Al-Tanaf, near the Jordanian and Iraqi border.
A large contingent of the main US-backed, anti-IS fighting force in Syria, an alliance known as the Syrian Democratic forces (SDF), is Kurdish and is viewed by Turkey as a “terrorist” group