Vice President Mike Pence issued a statement Wednesday that sought to clarify remarks he delivered earlier in the day in which he claimed that “ISIS has been defeated” — several hours after the radical Islamic group set off a bomb that killed at least two U.S. service members and two American civilians in Syria. More than a dozen people died in the attack.
In a speech at the U.S. State Department Wednesday morning, Pence credited President Trump and the U.S. military with vanquishing Islamic State terrorists in Syria.
“Thanks to the leadership of this commander in chief and the courage and sacrifice of our armed forces, we are now actually able to begin to hand off the fight against ISIS in Syria to our coalition partners,” Pence said, “And we are bringing our troops home. The caliphate has crumbled, and ISIS has been defeated.”
Before Pence delivered that assessment, he had been briefed on the deadly bomb attack, for which ISIS quickly claimed responsibility, in the northern city of Manbij. Hours after his speech, the vice president issued a statement about the bombing that stopped short of an outright declaration of victory.
“President Trump and I condemn the terrorist attack in Syria that claimed American lives and our hearts are with the loved ones of the fallen. We honor their memory and we will never forget their service and sacrifice,” Pence said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “Thanks to the courage of our Armed Forces, we have crushed the ISIS caliphate and devastated its capabilities. As we begin to bring our troops home, the American people can be assured, for the sake of our soldiers, their families, and our nation, we will never allow the remnants of ISIS to reestablish their evil and murderous caliphate – not now, not ever.”
By claiming to have “crushed the ISIS caliphate” — the quasi-state covering parts of Iraq and Syria that the group controlled for several years — Pence emphasized the part of the allied effort that has been successful, without mentioning that the group still exists as an underground army of terrorists, capable of pulling off deadly attacks.
In explaining his decision in December to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, Trump declared, “We have won against ISIS.”
“We’ve beaten them, and we’ve beaten them badly,” Trump said. “We’ve taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”
According to Pentagon estimates, ISIS can still claim 30,000 fighters in Syria and Iraq.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned in protest over Trump’s plan to remove the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in Syria, but in his speech at the State Department, Pence said that goal remained on track.
Some Republicans, including Trump’s strident supporter Sen. Lindsey Graham, have pushed back against the president’s plan.
“My concern by the statements made by President Trump is that you have set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we’re fighting,” Graham said Wednesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
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