Photographer: Bulent Kilic/AFP via Getty Images

Trump Says Raqqa Defeat Signals Islamic State's End ‘In Sight’

  • Thousands of combatants, civilians killed in lengthy campaign
  • President says jihadist group leaders must ‘face justice’

President Donald Trump hailed this week’s victory by Kurdish-led forces over Islamic State in the terrorist organization’s Raqqa headquarters as a “critical breakthrough” and a signal that end of the self-professed caliphate is “in sight.”

“We will soon transition into a new phase in which we will support local security forces, de-escalate violence across Syria, and advance the conditions for lasting peace, so that the terrorists cannot return to threaten our collective security again,” Trump said in a statement on Saturday.

Raqqa city on Oct. 20.

Photographer: Bulent Kilic/AFP via Getty Images

“Together, with our allies and partners, we will support diplomatic negotiations that end the violence, allow refugees to return safely home, and yield a political transition that honors the will of the Syrian people,” Trump said.

Fighters for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by airstrikes and special-forces assistance from the U.S., said earlier this week they had completed the primary military operation to eradicate extremists from the city.

The fight for Raqqa’s old city began in June; the battles left thousands of combatants and civilians dead and much of the city a bombed-out shell. The United Nations estimated in September that 80 percent of the city, which had a population of about 220,000 in 2004, is uninhabitable.

The loss of Raqqa, combined with July’s victory over Islamic State fighters in its Iraq stronghold of Mosul, has reduced the terror group to a guerrilla force concentrated on the Iraq-Syria border and in smaller towns in Iraq’s Anbar province.

‘Evil Terrorists’

“We have made, alongside our coalition partners, more progress against these evil terrorists in the past several months than in the past several years,” Trump said in the statement, adding that Islamic State leaders “must and will face justice.”

As it cedes ground, Islamic State may focus more on attacks in Europe and elsewhere; it has claimed responsibility for numerous deadly incidents in recent years, from the U.K. and France to Afghanistan and Tunisia. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad along with Russia and Iran could also emerge as the major powers in Syria as Islamic State fades there.

In an interview on Oct. 17, Trump credited more aggressive rules of engagement implemented under his administration for the victories against the group, although his overall strategy has largely mirrored that of Barack Obama’s administration.

“I totally changed the military. I totally changed the attitudes of the military,” Trump said in an interview with Washington radio station WMAL. Asked why Islamic State wasn’t beaten back earlier, he said, “Because you didn’t have Trump as your president.”

After Trump spoke this week, the Pentagon issued a statement emphasizing three years of efforts dating to the Obama administration to build up Iraqi armed forces and assemble a “large and powerful military coalition which has enabled partner forces in Iraq and Syria to liberate their countries from Daesh,” another term used to identify Islamic State.

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