Addressing foreign ministers and high-ranking officials from 79 countries in Washington on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, sought to assure his guests at the State Department that the US was not abandoning the fight against the terror group “Islamic State” (IS) in Syria and Iraq.
Many US allies have continued to voice concern over Washington’s role in the fight against IS since President Donald Trump’s surprise December 19 announcement that the US would withdraw troops from Syria immediately because Islamic State had been defeated. Though that withdrawal has yet to take place, coalition partners remain uncertain as to the future of the fight.
Pompeo told partners: “The US troops withdrawing from Syria is not the end of America’s fight. The fight is one we will continue to wage alongside you. The drawdown in troops is essentially a tactical change, it is not a change in the mission. It simply represents a new stage in an old fight. Our mission is unwavering, but we need your help to accomplish it.”
‘Requests are Likely to Come Very Soon’
Pompeo implored allies to aid the fight by supplying funds as well as bringing home fighters jailed by Kurdish allies. He said, “We ask that our coalition partners seriously and rapidly consider requests that will enable our efforts to continue. Those requests are likely to come very soon.” Speaking of the US role in the fight, Pompeo added, “America will continue to lead in giving those who would destroy us no quarter.”
Some partners, such as German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, said that questions about the US withdrawal needed to be answered. Maas also underlined the gravity of the situation, saying: “For us it is important that there is no major military offensive, especially in the northeast and Idlib. That would cause a humanitarian disaster.”
Islamic State Still a Threat
On Tuesday, General Joseph Votel, who oversees US troops in the Middle East and Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that IS remains a threat, “We do have to keep pressure on this network … They have the ability of coming back together if we don’t.” Votel underscored the fact that IS has managed to retain its leaders, fighters and backers as well as the cash and resources it needs to keep up the insurgency.
Trump has been keen to keep his promise of withdrawing troops from unpopular missions abroad, yet military experts as well as political allies and opponents have warned about the dangers of such a move. After his December announcement on Syria, Trump’s secretary of defense, James Mattis, resigned in protest to the decision, as did Brett McGurk, the top US envoy in the fight against Islamic State.