US vows IS fight despite Syria pullout

Mike Pompeo speaking at a meeting of the Global Coalition to defeat the Islamic State groupImage copyright

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Mr Pompeo made the speech to coalition partners meeting in Washington

The US troop withdrawal from Syria is not “the end of America’s fight” against the Islamic State (IS) group, the US Secretary of State has said.

Speaking to coalition partners, Mike Pompeo called the troop pullout “a new stage in an old fight” and said the US would continue to lead the battle.

He called it “a tactical change… not a change in the mission”.

President Donald Trump’s announcement that US troops would leave Syria caused outrage at home and abroad.

Mr Trump claimed in December that the group had been defeated, and reports suggested he wanted US soldiers home within 30 days.

But the president later slowed down the withdrawal after several resignations from key defence officials and strong criticism from Republicans and allies abroad.

What did Pompeo say?

Mr Pompeo made the speech in Washington to a gathering of the 79-nation global coalition that was formed in 2014 to defeat IS.

“The US troops withdrawing from Syria is not the end of America’s fight,” he said. “The fight is one we’ll continue to wage alongside you.”

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US ground troops first became involved in Syria in 2015

He said the world was entering “an era of decentralised jihad”, and said the US would call on its allies for help “very soon”.

“We ask that our coalition partners seriously and rapidly consider requests that will enable our efforts to continue,” he said.

US asks allies for more

By Barbara Plett Usher, BBC state department correspondent

Mike Pompeo said President Trump’s surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria was a tactical change, not a change in the US mission or commitment.

But he called on other nations to do more in the continued fight against IS, by providing funds to help stabilize liberated areas in Syria and Iraq and by repatriating and prosecuting foreign fighters jailed by America’s Kurdish allies in Syria.

Mr Trump did not consult members of this anti-IS coalition when he decided to bring US troops home, or with the US general who oversees troops in the Middle East, Joseph Votel.

Gen Votel told a senate committee this week that without sustained counterterrorism pressure the IS militants would regroup.

What has Trump said?

The president first made the shock withdrawal announcement in December.

“We have won against ISIS,” he said, using another acronym for the group. “We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly.”

Although he would later slow down the timetable for the troop withdrawal, the president still wants US troops to leave Syria.

In his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Mr Trump said “virtually all” of the group’s territory in Syria and Iraq had been liberated, saying it was “time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home”.

“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” he said.

Has IS been defeated?

Republicans, military officials and US allies abroad have all questioned Mr Trump’s assertion that IS has been defeated.

On Tuesday the head of the US military’s Central Command, Gen Joseph Votel, told a Senate committee up to 1,500 IS militants remain in a 20 sq mile (52 sq km) pocket on Syria’s border with Iraq.

Gen Votel said the anti-IS coalition needed to secure its hard-won gains by “maintaining a vigilant offensive” against the group, which still has “leaders, fighters, facilitators, resources and the profane ideology that fuels their efforts.”

Meanwhile, a report by a US defence department watchdog cited Central Command as saying that without sustained pressure IS “could likely resurge in Syria within six to 12 months”.

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