U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said Sunday that ISIS, the Islamic State group, continues to pose a serious military threat, a statement sharply at odds with recent assertions President Donald Trump made that the caliphate has been utterly defeated.
Bolton told ABC’s This Week program that ISIS fighters continue to bear arms, posing a menace in the Middle East and across the globe.
“We know right now that there are ISIS fighters scattered still around Syria and Iraq and that ISIS itself is growing in other parts of the world. The ISIS threat will remain,” Bolton said, suggesting that Trump has said as much on the subject himself.
“The president has been, I think, as clear as clear can be when he talks about the defeat of the ISIS territorial caliphate,” Bolton told ABC.
“He has never said that the elimination of the territorial caliphate means the end of ISIS in total. We know that’s not the case,” he continued.
“We know right now that there are ISIS fighters scattered still around Syria and Iraq. And that ISIS itself is growing in other parts of the world. The ISIS threat will remain.”
NEW: White House national security adviser John Bolton: "We know right now that there are ISIS fighters scattered still around Syria and Iraq and that ISIS itself is growing in other parts of the world. The ISIS threat will remain" https://t.co/azzlyEakp2 pic.twitter.com/jmJsjFuZt9
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) March 10, 2019
The truth is that Trump has been clear on ISIS — just not the way Bolton suggested.
Trump was so insistent that ISIS has been defeated that he announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria back in December, a precipitous move that cost him the services of his Pentagon chief, Defense Secretary James Mattis, who resigned hours later.
Since announcing the pullout, Trump has often boasted that ISIS has been thoroughly routed. Less than two weeks ago, he claimed in remarks made before US troops that “100 percent” of the Islamic State caliphate has been defeated in Syria.
“We did that in a much shorter period of time then it was supposed to be,” Trump told U.S. troops in Alaska as he made a stop on the way home from his summit in Vietnam with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Earlier in the month, the president addressed the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, President Trump and said his top military officials would “very soon” would be able to officially declare that ISIS was 100 percent defeated.
“They’ll be informing us very soon officially that it’s 100 percent,” Trump said in remarks at the State Department.
There have been plenty of signs from within the administration that the fight against ISIS would be more prolonged than the president has suggested.
Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, said in congressional testimony last week that the risk remains, even with ISIS on the ropes. He said that the group could reconstitute as a violent extremist organization.
“While ISIS has been battered by the Syrian Democratic Forces and coalition forces, we should be clear in our understanding that what we are seeing now is not the surrender of ISIS as an organization but a calculated decision to preserve the safety of their families and preservation of their capabilities by taking their chances in camps for internally displaced persons, and going to ground in remote areas and waiting for the right time for a resurgence,” Votel told the House Armed Services Committee.
Trump in December ordered the withdrawal of all of the roughly 3,000 U.S. troops that had been deployed in Syria to fight ISIS, but recently — perhaps in a nod to the voices on his security team like Bolton’s — has agreed to retain a force of some 400 troops there.