World

Trump says may declare ISIS defeated next week

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he expected a formal announcement as early as next week that the coalition fighting ISIS militants has reclaimed all of the territory previously held by the extremist group.

"Their land is gone. It's a big factor - their land is gone," Mr Trump told foreign ministers and other senior officials from 79 countries that have worked alongside the US in fighting the militant group in Syria and Iraq.

Mr Trump's decision to withdraw US forces from Syria has prompted some criticism at home from Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who fear ISIS could regain its strength.

A top US Army general for the region, Joseph Votel, said in Senate testimony on Tuesday that the group could experience a resurgence after a US pullout.

Mr Trump did not back down from his determination to withdraw, saying, "We look forward to giving our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home.

"The United States military, our coalition partners and the Syrian Democratic Forces have liberated virtually all of the territory previously held by ISIS in Syria and Iraq," he told the gathering at the State Department.

He said the achievement "should be formally announced, sometime, probably next week, that we will have 100 per cent of the caliphate".

Earlier, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reassured the coalition partners that the withdrawal of US troops from Syria was not "the end of America's fight" and called on them to help permanently defeat ISIS.

"The US troops withdrawing from Syria is not the end of America's fight. The fight is one we will continue to wage alongside you," Mr Pompeo said.

"The drawdown in troops is essentially a tactical change, it is not a change in the mission. It simply represents a new stage in an old fight."

Warnings by Mr Pompeo and others that ISIS remained a dangerous threat fly in the face of Mr Trump's December declaration that the militants had been defeated and the US would withdraw its roughly 2,000 troops from Syria.

The president's sudden decision shocked coalition partners, including an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias that has been among the most effective against ISIS, and prompted the abrupt resignation of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.

Wednesday's meeting was the first of senior coalition officials since Mr Trump announced the withdrawal. - REUTERS

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