Donald Trump claimed on Friday that U.S. forces in Syria have reclaimed “100 percent” of the land previously held by ISIS, a claim that was immediately disputed by both Syrian and Pentagon officials, CNN is reporting.
Trump, returning from a summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, stopped by Alaska on his return trip from Hanoi. There, he addressed U.S. troops at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where he made a claim about the battle against ISIS in Syria.
“We just took over you know you kept hearing it was 90 percent, 92 percent, the caliphate in Syria, now it’s 100 percent, we just took over 100 percent caliphate, that means the area of the land we’re just have 100 percent so that’s good.”
The word “caliphate,” for those not familiar, refers to the non-existent Islamist nation that ISIS had hoped to establish in the Middle East as well as parts of Europe and Africa. It derives from the word used to describe the head of the Ottoman Empire – a “caliph” – which refers to whatever Islamist theocrat ruled over the kingdom. There hasn’t been an Ottoman caliph or caliphate since 1917.
Rather than establishing an Islamist state across much of the Eastern Hemisphere, ISIS’s territory instead has been reduced to a few square miles in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, near Syria’s border with Iraq, according to BBC News.
— CNN (@CNN) March 1, 2019
Controlling approximately 20 square miles may not be much compared to the nearly 34,000 square miles it once controlled, but regardless, ISIS’s territory has not been eliminated completely, as Pentagon and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have noted. In fact, an SDF spokesperson told CNN that, just hours before Trump made the surprising claim, about 1,000 Syrian civilians were evacuated from ISIS-held territory.
Similarly, unnamed Pentagon sources echoed the same statements that SDF gave to CNN: Namely, that ISIS controls a few square miles in Syria and that evacuations of civilians continue.
It was the second time in a few months that Donald Trump made a surprise announcement about ISIS and Syria that was disputed by his own advisers.
In December, out of nowhere and seemingly without consultation from the Pentagon, Trump tweeted that the U.S. had defeated ISIS in Syria (“my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency”) and that U.S. troops would be withdrawing from the region. At the time, ISIS, once tens of thousands of fighters strong, had been greatly reduced – to less than a couple thousand – but was (and still is) an active presence in the region.
The announcement played at least some part in the decision by Defense Secretary James Mattis to resign.