The Pentagon's chief spokesman is refusing to say whether the last ISIS stronghold in Syria has fallen a day after President Donald Trump announced the caliphate's demise for the fourth time in as many months.
“Wherever ISIS exists, we will continue to pursue them with our partners and allies in the region,” Charles Summers told reporters on Thursday at a Pentagon media event.
When asked if the fight to clear ISIS from Syria's Middle Euphrates River Valley has ended, Summers replied, “We continue to fight against ISIS wherever they may be.”
Fellow Pentagon spokesman Tom Crosson clarified afterward that the U.S. military is not preparing to attack ISIS in parts of Syria controlled by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad or Russian, Iranian, and Hezbollah forces.
“While the Department of Defense has struck targets of opportunity west of the Euphrates in the past, our strategy has not changed,”Crosson said. “We are maintaining our focus in the east and south to eradicate ISIS in the collective self-defense of Iraq and U.S. national self-defense.”
U.S. officials confirmed to Task & Purpose that Syrian Democratic Forces are still clearing ISIS from its last strongholds in Baghouz, Syria.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted on Thursday that the U.S.-backed group had not yet announced that all of ISIS' former territory had been liberated.
Bali reporters on Thursday that the SDF was mopping up the last remnants of resistance in Baghouz, according to Reuters. The U.S. allies intend to declare victory after thy finish checking for ISIS fighters hidden in tunnels and caves as well as clearing mines and booby traps.
Speaking at an Army tank plant in Lima, Ohio, Trump predicted on Wednesday that ISIS' former caliphate would be gone “as of tonight.”
Trump has made such announcements before: On Dec. 19, 2018, Trump announced, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria” and vowed to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria.
Then, on Feb. 15, the president predicted that the eradication of ISIS' former caliphate, “Will be announced over the next 24 hours.”
On Feb. 28, Trump told service members in Alaska that ISIS had lost “100 percent” of its former territory.
In his latest pronouncement of ISIS's defeat, Trump showed his audience two maps showing how much the former caliphate has shrunk. ISIS territory was marked in red.
“Now you look at it and there's no red,” Trump said. “No red.”
The classification markings on the maps were blacked out. When asked on Thursday if the maps the president showed were classified, Summers said, “I don't have anything for you on that.”
UPDATE: This story was updated on March 21 after Pentagon spokesman Tom Crosson clarified that the U.S. military is not preparing to attack ISIS in parts of Syria controlled by the regime and its allies.