In a stark public break with Donald Trump, the US commander who has been leading the war against ISIS told CNN Friday that he disagreed with the president’s claim that ISIS has been defeated, warning that the terror group was far from defeated.
Joseph Votel, the top American general in the Middle East, also said that he disagrees with Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria and warned the US-backed forces on the ground in Syria were not ready to handle the threat of ISIS on their own.
“It would not have been my military advice at that particular time … I would not have made that suggestion, frankly,” Votel said of the troop withdrawal. “(The caliphate) still has leaders, still has fighters, it still has facilitators, it still has resources, so our continued military pressure is necessary to continue to go after that network.”
Votel told the network he would only have declared that ISIS had been defeated if he was sure they no longer pose a threat.\
“When I say, ‘we have defeated them,’ I want to ensure that means they do not have the capability to plot or direct attacks against the US or our allies,” Votel said. “They still have this very powerful ideology, so they can inspire.”
The commander of US Central Command had previously said that he “was not consulted” before Trump’s controversial announcement late last year that the US would rapidly withdraw its troops from the war-torn country.
Trump’s announcement appalled US lawmakers and triggered resignations, including that of Defense Secretary James Mattis and the senior State Department official in charge of the anti-ISIS campaign.
Votel’s comments come a day after Vice President Mike Pence called on a gathering of 62 countries in Poland to confront Iran directly, and ripped into Europe for its refusal to pull out of the nuclear deal.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on this story.