WASHINGTON — The Pentagon declined to comment or confirm President Donald Trump’s Thursday claim that 100 percent of the territory held by ISIS has been recaptured.
The president made the claim while speaking to military personnel in Alaska, where he made a refueling stop during his return from Vietnam and the shortened summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“You kept hearing it was 90 percent, 92 percent, the caliphate in Syria. Now it’s 100 percent,” Trump said Thursday at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. “We have the whole thing.
“We did that in a much shorter period of time than it was supposed to be,” he said.
The president’s remarks were transmitted live to Pentagon reporters via the Pentagon channel.
Once the president made his declaration, some Pentagon press persons went into a secure room to conference with counterparts in the region and with U.S. Central Command, which has control of that theater.
At the conclusion of that conference, reporters were told to “call the White House” for any further clarification.
(Earlier on Thursday, the commander of Syrian Democratic Forces — the ground element of the anti-ISIS coalition — Mazloum Kobani, said in a video released to the news media that the SDF would be able to announce “the complete victory over [ISIS] in a week,” according to news reports.)
The U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition had surrounded the last tiny land area held by ISIS in eastern Syria, near the southeast border of Iraq and the town of Baghouz. Coalition forces had paused in the bloody fighting because of the high number of civilians in the redoubt.
ISIS elements had tried to negotiate safe passage from Baghouz; that idea that was opposed by the U.S. and other members of the coalition.
On Thursday, a mass grave with dozens of bodies believed to be Yazidi tribal people held captive by ISIS members was found west of Baghouz, according to the SDF.
Adnan Afrin, SDF commander, told reporters Thursday that many of the bodies found were female and decapitated, according to news reports. Operation Inherent Resolve officials confirmed those reports.
The push to capture Baghouz is the final maneuver in Operation Roundup, the effort to clear ISIS from all land that it held east of the Euphrates River. That campaign began in April 2018.
Phase one of Operation Roundup consisted of general offensive actions against ISIS, while phase two focused on the liberation of Dashisha, which was completed in mid-July.
Phase three, designed to be the final offensive, focused on retaking Hajin, Syria, along the Euphrates River, and Abu Kemal, on the border with Iraq, along with surrounding areas, as the pivot points to roust ISIS from urban enclave.
On Thursday, Operation Inherent Resolve reported that the Coalition conducted a total of 33,921 strikes between August 2014 and end of January 2019. “During this period, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 1257 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the beginning of Operation Inherent Resolve,” it said on its web page.
Also on Thursday, the Coalition reported that between Feb. 10 – 23, 2019, it conducted 211 strikes consisting of 451 engagements against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq.