“IDLIB PROVINCE IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM”
by Sharon Rondeau
President Donald Trump has made “destroying” ISIS one of the prominent goals of his administration in addition to preventing Islamic radicals from entering the United States.
McGurk recounted that at the time of its organization in 2014, ISIS contained some 40,000 fighters who sought to destabilize Syrian government forces and their “opposition” by launching attacks on both factions in the midst of the Syrian civil war.
In his remarks on Friday, McGurk acknowledged that ISIS had intended to establish an Islamic “caliphate” in the Middle East. “They controlled what was effectively a quasi-state. They were able to mass and maneuver force all around Iraq and Syria, taking entire cities, controlling millions of people under their domain. Since that time, they have lost about 70,000 square kilometers of territory in Iraq and Syria. About 78 percent of the territory they used to hold in Iraq, they can no longer operate in, and about 58 percent of the territory they used to hold in Syria, they can no longer operate in,” he said.
On March 17, 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry characterized ISIS’s attacks on religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq as a “genocide.” Women and children have been taken as slaves, sold and tortured.
On July 10, after a nine-month hold on Mosul, ISIS was eradicated from the city by Iraqi soldiers and an array of forces forming the coalition led by the United States to which McGurk referred in his Friday update.
McGurk also reported that approximately two million former refugees from ISIS-ravaged areas have been able to return to their homes. Referring to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, McGurk commented, “That is almost unprecedented in a conflict like this in terms of getting returnees back, and it’s due to a lot of the work that the Secretary mentioned here at the podium the other day about our stabilization and humanitarian effort that goes in parallel with any military campaign.”
The DOD regularly releases reports of civilian casualties as a result of the operation which today stand at a “likely” 624.
The State Department’s role has been to provide humanitarian aid to refugees and “stabilization” in the region, which includes locating and removing land mines and debris so that the once-indigenous population can return. The cities of Tabqa and Raqqa in Syria are specific areas where State personnel have provided experts to “clear” school buildings which ISIS had wired to explode.
However, in answering a question toward the end of the briefing, McGurk said that “long-term reconstruction of Syria is really dependent upon getting a credible political horizon on the table.”
Despite the progress made over the preceding half-year, McGurk corroborated recent news reports indicating that Idlib Province in northwestern Syria remains “a serious problem” as “a haven for al-Qaida.”
Editor’s Note: An updated transcript of the briefing was released later on Friday.