US moving to 'annihilate' ISIS: Mattis

Pentagon chief gives details of tactical shift to stop those who flocked to join terrorist group from returning home

WASHINGTON • The fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has shifted to "annihilation tactics" to stop potential terrorists who have flocked to places such as Iraq and Syria from returning to their home countries to wreak havoc, said United States Defence Secretary James Mattis.

In his first interview on a Sunday talk show since joining the Trump administration in January, Mr Mattis provided details of the tactical shift he announced at the Pentagon on May 19.

"We have already shifted from attrition tactics where we shove them from one position to another in Iraq and Syria," Mr Mattis said on Face The Nation on CBS. "Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa."

The comments followed a week when ISIS claimed responsibility for the May 22 suicide bombing in Manchester, England, that killed 22 people. The alleged bomber was a British citizen of Libyan descent who had returned days earlier from Libya. The extremist group also said it was behind an attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt that left 29 dead.

"We are going to squash the enemy's ability to give some indication that... they have invulnerability... that they can send people off to Istanbul, to Belgium, to Great Britain and kill people with impunity," said Mr Mattis.

Asked about the potential for greater civilian casualties from the stepped-up attacks, Mr Mattis said such losses "are a fact of life". He added: "We do everything humanly possible consistent with military necessity, taking many chances to avoid civilian casualties at all costs."

United States Defence Secretary James Mattis arriving for a US Military Academy graduation ceremony in West Point, New York, on Saturday. In an interview on Sunday, he said the US will squash ISIS' ability to show that "they have invulnerability".
United States Defence Secretary James Mattis arriving for a US Military Academy graduation ceremony in West Point, New York, on Saturday. In an interview on Sunday, he said the US will squash ISIS' ability to show that "they have invulnerability". PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SHIFT IN STRATEGY

Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa.

U.S. DEFENCE SECRETARY JAMES MATTIS, on the 'annihilation tactics' to stop potential terrorists from returning home.

ISIS is now surrounded in Mosul, where Iraqi forces are moving against them, and in Tal Afar, farther west towards Iraq's border with Syria, said Mr Mattis. An effort also has begun to surround them in Raqqa, the capital of the self-declared Islamic caliphate spanning Iraq and Syria that they lay claim to. After members of the militant group are fully surrounded, "we'll go in and clean them out", said Mr Mattis.

The US has also delegated more authority to commanders in the field but has not changed its rules of engagement, he said. Delegating the decision-making to the lower levels will also improve efforts to prevent civilian casualties, he added.

Despite the threats facing the world and the US, the retired US Marine Corps general, 66, sometimes known by the nickname "Mad Dog", was blunt when asked what keeps him awake at night.

"Nothing," he told CBS host John Dickerson. "I keep other people awake at night."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2017, with the headline 'US moving to 'annihilate' ISIS: Mattis'. Print Edition | Subscribe