US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis revealed on Friday that President Donald Trump has instructed the Pentagon to “annihilate” ISIS in Syria in a bid to prevent escaped foreign jihaditss from returning to their home countries.
The president has “directed a tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS,” Mattis said.
“The intent is to prevent the return home of escaped foreign fighters.”
The move to encircle then kill as many jihadists in place as possible — rather than letting them exit a city and targeting them as they flee — reflects an increased urgency to stop battle-hardened jihadists bringing their military expertise and ideology back to European capitals and other areas.
Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to quickly defeat ISIS, signed an executive order soon after taking office giving his generals 30 days to come up with a revised plan to wipe the jihadists out.
The review resulted in the new “annihilation campaign” and saw commanders gain greater autonomy to make battlefield decisions.
Critics of Barack Obama’s administration frequently complained of White House micromanagement and a lengthy approval process causing delays on the ground.
Mattis called foreign militants a “strategic threat” should they return home and said the annihilation effort would prevent the problem from being transplanted from one location to another.
“By taking the time up front to surround these locations, instead of simply shoving them from one to another and actually reinforcing them as they fall back … we now take the time to surround them,” Mattis said. “And why do we do it? Because the foreign fighters are the strategic threat should they return home to Tunis, to Kuala Lumpur, to Paris, to Detroit, wherever. Those foreign fighters are a threat. So by taking the time to de-conflict, to surround and then attack, we carry out the annihilation campaign so we don’t simply transplant this problem from one location to another.”