(CNN) — President Donald Trump said Saturday that the United States would soon transition into a “new phase” of involvement in Syria after US-backed forces drove ISIS members from Raqqa, the city they deemed their capital.
“The defeat of ISIS in Raqqah represents a critical breakthrough in our worldwide campaign to defeat ISIS and its wicked ideology,” Trump said in a statement released by the White House. “With the liberation of ISIS’s capital and the vast majority of its territory, the end of the ISIS 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.
The US and its allies would support diplomatic negotiations to end the violence, to allow Syrian refugees to return to their homes, and to make way for “a political transition that honors the will of the Syrian people,” the President added.
US-backed forces fighting ISIS in Raqqa announced this week that “major military operations” in the city have ended and that the terrorist group has lost control of its self-declared capital.
In his statement Saturday, Trump emphasized that defeating ISIS was one of his campaign pledges and said he issued orders to give military commanders more authority to wage war against the terrorist group.
“As a result, ISIS strongholds in Mosul and Raqqah have fallen,” Trump said. “We have made, alongside our coalition partners, more progress against these evil terrorists in the past several months than in the past several years.”
Earlier this week, Trump said that the terrorist group wasn’t on the run before because “you didn’t have Trump as your President.”
“I totally changed rules of engagement. I totally changed our military. I totally changed the attitudes of the military, and they have done a fantastic job,” Trump told syndicated radio talk show host Chris Plante Tuesday. “ISIS is now giving up. They are giving up, they are raising their hands, they are walking off. Nobody has ever seen that before.”
Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter disputed that claim in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” Friday, saying the plan to capture the terrorist group’s de facto capital of Raqqa was put in place two years ago under Trump’s predecessor, then-President Barack Obama.
“The plan … was laid out two years ago, and has been executed pretty much in the manner and the schedule that was foreseen then,” Carter said.
Carter, who served as defense secretary under Obama at the end of his second term, gave credit for the defeat of ISIS in Raqqa “first and foremost” to the military. He also said that he and Gen. Joseph Dunford, a former Marine Corps commandant who is now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, actively tried to accelerate the plan to defeat ISIS under Obama, and they always got approval from the president at the time.
Carter added: “I can well imagine that if my successor, Jim Mattis, had ways of moving things along, then he would have recommended them as well.”