Oman, Feb 15 (IANS) The US commander who has been leading the war against the Islamic State (IS) said on Friday that he disagreed with President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria and warned that the terror group was far from being defeated.
Joseph Votel, the Pentagon commander in charge of American forces in the Middle East, told CNN from Oman that he would only have declared that the IS had been defeated, as Trump did in December, if he was sure they no longer posed a threat.
“When I say, ‘we have defeated them’, I want to ensure that means they do not have the capability to plot or direct attacks against the US or our allies,” Votel said. “They still have this very powerful ideology, so they can inspire.”
The general added that the US-backed forces on the ground in Syria were not ready to handle the threat of IS on their own.
Trump had announced his troop pullout decision late last year, claiming that the local IS force was largely defeated. His decision led to the resignation of former US Defence Secretary James Mattis.
“It would not have been my military advice at that particular time… I would not have made that suggestion, frankly,” Votel said of the troop withdrawal.
“(The caliphate) still has leaders, still has fighters, it still has facilitators, it still has resources, so our continued military pressure is necessary to continue to go after that network.”
Votel had earlier said he “was not consulted” before Trump’s controversial announcement.
He told CNN that the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who launched an offensive to oust the IS from its only remaining enclave in Syria last weekend, could not defeat the terror group without continued American assistance.
“They still require our enablement and our assistance with this,” the general said, adding that the US military was still in the midst of executing a “well-crafted military campaign”.
“We want (the IS) to be able to be controlled or addressed by the indigenous partners, whether that’s the Iraqi security forces in Iraq, or the SDF, that when they are capable of handing this threat on their own, without our assistance, that will be another key criteria indicating to me that we have accomplished our mission of defeat of IS.”