WASHINGTON — Defense officials said Friday that the ground operation against the last ISIS holding in eastern Syria is ongoing but that deliberation and measured progress — not a quick capture — are the defining guidelines.
Responding to questions posed by TMN, a spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve said Friday that the ground elements of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition remain “firmly committed to our common mission” to defeat ISIS.
“The operation to complete the liberation of Baghouz is ongoing,” the OIR spokesperson told TMN in an response emailed early Friday afternoon. Baghouz is the name of the urban area where ISIS retains some control.
“It remains a hard fight, and (ISIS) is showing that they intend to keep fighting for as long as possible. (ISIS) continues to resort to gruesome tactics like suicide attacks and using children as human shields,” the spokesperson said.
According to some Pentagon officials, ISIS holds less than a square mile of Baghouz, a chunk often described as a “sliver.”
On Wednesday President Donald Trump declared all the land held by ISIS as part of its caliphate had been recaptured, a claim the White House the White House repeated on Friday.
However, on Thursday, Pentagon spokesperson Charles Summer repeatedly declined to endorse the White House characterization or to say “yes” or ‘no” when asked if Baghouz has been fully taken from ISIS.
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.”
The quest to take the final land holdings of ISIS caliphate began last September. On Tuesday, the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), the 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.
“For operational security reasons, we won’t discuss specific operations in regard to clearance as they are continuing to happen,” the OIR spokesperson said. “We can assure you that the SDF is firmly committed to our common mission to achieve an enduring defeat of (ISIS). Even as they relentlessly pursue (ISIS), they have demonstrated numerous times just how prudent and deliberate they have been in consistently applying pressure on (ISIS).”