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Despite Troop Withdrawal From Syria, Pompeo Says The U.S. Isn't Giving Up The Fight Against ISIS

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Trump's secretary of state says the U.S. is not abandoning the fight against ISIS. Mike Pompeo's assurance came after yesterday's declaration by the president. Trump had said on Twitter that ISIS was defeated in Syria and that he was ordering U.S. troops home. In a talk with NPR's Steve Inskeep, Secretary of State Pompeo said something a bit less sweeping than what the president said. Pompeo said ISIS has largely lost its territory but still must be fought.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Is ISIS defeated?

MIKE POMPEO: We've made the caliphate in Syria go away. The president made an enormous commitment to take down the caliphate. And that has been achieved. We now have the battle that is a longtime battle, which is a counterterrorism battle not only against ISIS, but against al-Qaeda and others, HTS, all the terrorist groups. President Trump remains just as committed today as he was yesterday and the day before.

CHANG: Our colleague Steve Inskeep of Morning Edition is now with me in the studios. Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: Hey there, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what details did Pompeo offer today that fill in the gaps of the president's declaration?

INSKEEP: Added a little nuance there. The president suggested it was all done, all over, ISIS defeated, full stop. Pompeo and other administration officials have said, OK, we've taken their territory. But they are acknowledging there's still a group out there that has to be fought. There's still a lot of work to be done, suggesting that this is really just a shift in tactics. Although, we should mention this appears to be a huge shift that has taken a lot of people in the administration by surprise.

CHANG: Did Pompeo express any concern that if the U.S. were to leave Syria, that there could be a risk of ISIS regenerating, expanding, gathering strength?

INSKEEP: He didn't go there. He was defending this move and insisting the United States is still committed to the counterterror effort even if the troops go away.

CHANG: So is defeating ISIS all the administration cares about when it comes to Syria? I mean, there's also a huge civil war there. There's a refugee crisis.

INSKEEP: Well, the president said that's all I've ever cared about in the Trump administration. But just the day before his announcement, Jim Jeffrey, who's the special envoy for the administration to Syria, laid out three different goals that he wanted to be achieved. One of them is destroying ISIS. One of them is countering Iran, which is very active in Syria. And also, one is to find some political solution to a horrible civil war. The other two goals now seem to be left uncertain.

CHANG: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Now, Secretary Pompeo did tell us the U.S. is still committed to the peace process, although it's unclear what happens to the U.S. allies, the Kurds in eastern Syria, who are left behind. Let's listen.

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INSKEEP: The Russian Foreign Ministry has said in the last day that the withdrawal of U.S. troops creates good prospects for a peaceful solution. And they gave the example of Aleppo, where the Syrian government, backed by Russia, went in, destroyed U.S. allies and took over. Would you warn the Syrian government against moving against the Kurdish allies that you're leaving behind?

POMPEO: I don't give much credit to the Russian statements on much of anything, to be honest with you, Steve. Here's what I know. The United States made a commitment. We led a global defeat ISIS campaign to take down the caliphate in Syria. We've achieved that.

INSKEEP: So continuing to focus on that single goal, Ailsa. He didn't make specific promises to the Kurds except to try to continue the peace process to help them. Although, this is a point that is deeply upsetting to some lawmakers, including Republican senators like Lindsey Graham who feel the Kurds are being abandoned.

CHANG: Right, and could face the risk of Turkey attacking them.

INSKEEP: Turkey attacking them, the Syrian government attacking them. Who knows?

CHANG: That's NPR's Steve Inskeep. Thanks so much, Steve.

INSKEEP: Ailsa, thanks.

CHANG: And you can hear Steve's full interview with Pompeo tomorrow morning on Morning Edition. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.