Homeland Security

U.S. Envoy: 'All the Ground has Held' of 50K Square Miles SDF, Iraqis Took Back from ISIS

Brett McGurk, U.S. envoy for the global coalition against ISIS, speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington on Aug. 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The administration’s envoy to the fight against ISIS stressed today that all of the territory that’s been captured from the caliphate has been held by local forces, with the Islamic State thus far not even able to retake a square mile.

Brett McGurk, who’s been the special envoy for nearly two years, told reporters after a ministerial meeting on the fight against ISIS on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly today that “the atmosphere in the room was one of resolve and determination to make sure we not only continue the defeat of ISIS, of Daesh, but also the follow-through to make sure that they cannot come back.”

Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces have cleared ISIS out of about 50,000 square miles and liberated more than 6 million people who were living under Islamic State occupation.

In Iraq, about 2.1 million people who fled from ISIS have returned to their homes, a figure that “historically, in a post-conflict environment like this, is almost entirely unprecedented,” McGurk said.

“This is not a situation in which we’re working with military forces on the ground that go in and clear territory and then ISIS or terrorists come back,” he said. “All the ground has held, and we want to make sure, obviously, that we keep it that way.”

The SDF said this week they’ve taken more than 80 percent of Raqqa, and McGurk declared “the end is now in sight.”

“Not too long ago, ISIS was not only planning, but they planned and then carried out – sent teams from Raqqa to carry out massive attacks, terrorist attacks, in Istanbul, in Paris, in Brussels. All of that was going on in Raqqa. We also knew in Raqqa they were planning major, significant terrorist attacks, the type of September 11th-type events that they aspire to. All of that was going on in Raqqa,” he said. “…They are now really down to about their last three neighborhoods in the north-central part of the city, and it is a matter of time until the operation in Raqqa is finished.”

The SDF put a temporary, fully representative governing council in place to tend to the basic needs of Raqqa as the city gets back to normal. McGurk noted that doesn’t mean letting Bashar al-Assad rule the liberated territory: “Nobody in these areas wants the Damascus government to return.”

“That would be, I think, something that would not be stabilizing. I’m just stating the reality that happens on the ground,” he added. “…We’re finding the pattern for a stable aftermath of ISIS is the Syrian Democratic Forces.”