WASHINGTON — The Pentagon repeatedly declined on Thursday to say whether ISIS has been defeated in eastern Syria, as proclaimed once again by President Donald Trump.
Acting Pentagon spokesperson Charles Summers said the anti-ISIS coalition “continue to pursue ISIS and ensure, with our partners in the region, that we eliminate their ability to reform. The amount of territory they’ve held is smaller and smaller and smaller. And that’s all I have for you.”
He repeated that response, with minor variations, to questions aimed at sharpening the clarity as to whether the less-than-a-square mile sliver hold by ISIS fighters in the eastern Syrian town of Baghouz had been taken, as Trump said during a Wednesday visit to Ohio.
“It is smaller and smaller and smaller and that’s all I have for it,” Summers said at one point. “I just don’t have anything for you on that right now.
“Wherever ISIS exists we will continue to pursue ISIS in the region,” he said. “I just don’t have anything for you.”
By that definition, that would mean ISIS-held areas west of the Euphrates River, territory under the control of Syrian government forces and their Russian allies, would be open to action by the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.
The quest to take the final land holdings of the so-called ISIS caliphate began in September 2018.
When it was noted to Summers he did not answer the questions, he said, “That is my answer.”
On Tuesday, the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), that land element of the anti-ISIS coalition, captured an encampment where the ISIS fighters had been dug in as what seemed to be a final defensive position.
The SDF did not offer comment on Wednesday or Thursday as to its actions to take control of remaining sections of Baghouz.
Summers did say that the ISIS members connected with the Jan. 16 attack in Manbij, Syria, that that killed four Americans and others have been “captured or killed.” He did not say if others remained at large.
In regard to the U.S.-Mexico border wall project, Summers said the Department of Homeland Security delivered its project request list to the Pentagon on Thursday. That is five weeks after Trump declared a national emergency in order to shift funds from Pentagon projects to help pay for the wall.
Summers said Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is reviewing that request list, a required step before the Pentagon funding can be given to the wall project. He could not explain the DHS delay, saying only that it was “a very deliberative process.”