Trump takes credit for ISIS defeat

Asked why ISIS wasn't defeated or beaten back earlier, Mr Trump said on Tuesday: "Because you didn't have Trump as your president." PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump took credit for making changes to the military that allowed US-backed forces to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa - the last major urban stronghold of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"It had to do with the people I put in and it had to do with rules of engagement... I totally changed the attitudes of the military," Mr Trump said in an interview on Washington-based radio station WMAL, according to a report by Bloomberg.

Asked why ISIS wasn't defeated or beaten back earlier, Mr Trump said on Tuesday: "Because you didn't have Trump as your president."

Backed by air strikes and special forces from a US-led coalition, Syrian Democratic Forces first encircled Raqqa and then squeezed extremists into smaller pockets of territory, battles that left thousands of civilians and fighters dead and much of the city in ruins.

ISIS lost control of its most important bastion in neighbouring Iraq - Mosul - three months ago, and is now reduced to a guerilla force in its former heartlands.

The US President, however, did not mention the key intervention of Russia in Syria's civil war in 2015, a move that surprised the US and shored up the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Mr Assad's government had been losing territory to ISIS and separate groups of terrorists and US-backed rebels before Moscow intervened.

In May, US Defence Secretary James Mattis spoke about the impact of changes made since Mr Trump ordered a review of the ISIS strategy when he took office, reported CNN.

Mr Mattis pointed to two key changes under Mr Trump: First, the President's decision to allow commanders more leeway in undertaking operations on their own authority. There would also be more of an effort to isolate ISIS fighters in their existing strongholds.

Yet experts have also said it was always anticipated that the three-year war against ISIS started by president Barack Obama in 2014 would reach this point, reported The New York Times.

About an hour after Mr Trump spoke, the Pentagon issued a statement stressing three years of efforts 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 ISIS.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline Trump takes credit for ISIS defeat. Subscribe