- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2019

The White House said Friday that the Islamic State’s territorial caliphate in Syria, where the terrorist group once controlled 8 million people, has been 100 percent wiped out.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed reporters maps of Islamic State, or ISIS, territory in 2014, when it controlled large swaths of the war-torn nation, and of Syria today, with all the previous Islamic State areas defeated by U.S. and allied forces.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan briefed President Trump about the developments during a flight on Air Force One to Florida. The announcement came after intense fighting in recent days around the Syrian town of Baghouz, where the black flag of ISIS is no longer flying.

Mr. Trump tweeted Friday about the terrorist group, “ISIS uses the internet better than almost anyone, but for all of those susceptible to ISIS propaganda, they are now being beaten badly at every level.”

Apparently aiming his comments at potential Islamic State recruits, Mr. Trump added, “There is nothing to admire about them, they will always try to show a glimmer of vicious hope, but they are losers and barely breathing. Think about that before you destroy your lives and the lives of your family!

Mr. Trump told reporters upon arriving in Florida, “You guys can have the map. Congratulations.”

The Pentagon has yet to issue any formal comment regarding the White House’s claim of the terror group’s final defeat in Syria. Mr. Shanahan’s spokesman, Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino, declined to provide The Washington Times any additional details regarding the defense chief’s briefing on the reported recapture of ISIS’s final stronghold in the Syrian village of Baghouz.

But recent reports from the village, located near the group’s main redoubts in the eastern Syrian city of Deir-ez-Zour, say U.S.-backed militia forces and American warplanes have ceased fire, with ground forces moving through the area and reportedly pulling down ISIS’s infamous black banners that had waved amid the buildings and tents of the village.

However, allies airstrikes combined with heavy gunfire continued to echo in the eastern part of Baghouz throughout Friday, CNN reported, and sporadic gunfire could still be heard at the site.

The Islamic State emerged in the wake of President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, after Iraqi leaders refused to guarantee standard immunity for American soldiers deployed there.

As ISIS gained strength in the Middle East, Mr. Obama initially downplayed the threat, calling the group a “jayvee” terrorist team. But the Islamic State was soon claiming credit for some of the most horrific terrorist attacks around the world, from Paris to Egypt to the U.S., where an ISIS-inspired gunman killed 49 people and wounded another 53 in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub in June 2016.

In its self-proclaimed caliphate, ISIS ruled brutally, carrying out torture and beheadings as it imposed its version of extremist Islamic rule.

Carlo Muñoz contributed to this article.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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