Does Trump Deserve Credit for Defeating ISIS?

At their peak, the so-called Islamic State did resemble a State, albeit a fascist one. The terror group controlled over 40,000 square kilometers in territory, which was self-sustained through taxes on locals, smuggling, looting, seized oil fields, ransoms, and extortion, backed by an army of over 40,000 foreign fighters alone (and many more local fighters). Or as Barack Obama called them, “al-Qaeda’s JV team.”

Obama severely underestimated ISIS’ strength during their rise, and thus the U.S. was late to the game in combating the terror group, which has now been territorially defeated. Trump said yesterday (Wednesday) that ISIS would be defeated by the end of the day,  which came a day after Syrian forces said ISIS last territory (less than three square kilometers) in Baghouz is under full control (with militants cornered). Only the most comitted zealots remain.

Trump posted before and after images of ISIS territory on inauguration day vs. now on his Twitter, appearing to take credit for the demolition of ISIS. It must be emphasized that this claim is only accurate when phrased as a territorial defeat of ISIS, though the destruction of the “Caliphate” aspect of the group will severely damage their credibility (to prospective Islamists).

Whether it be the economy, stock market, or the defeat of ISIS, Trump’s critics will inevitably chalk this up to a mere continuation of a trend started by Barack Obama (and many have).

While the ISIS Caliphate did decline from their peak under Obama, that decline noticeably accelerated once Trump took office. In fact, Trump did more in one year than Obama did in three. Eleven months into his presidency, 90% of ISIS territory held on inauguration day had been reclaimed.

ISIS lost control of their capital in Iraq (the city of Mosul) in July 2017, and then their Syrian capital (Raqqa) three months later.

The Decimation of ISIS Under Trump and Obama
September 2014- January 20, 2017 January 21, 2017 – December 21, 2017
Number of U.S. Killed 8 5
Number of People Liberated from ISIS 2.4 million 5.3 million
Estimated Number of ISIS Fighters 35,000 1,000
Square Miles Held by ISIS 17,500 1,930
Square Miles Liberated from ISIS 13,200 15,570

So what did Trump do differently? As the Heritage Foundation’s Robin Simcox explained:

Days after being inaugurated, President Trump signed an Executive Order requesting a Pentagon-led review be provided to him within thirty days on how ISIS could be defeated. Calling this a “secret plan” would be generous, but tactical tweaks did quickly began to appear.

[Former] Secretary of Defense James Mattis outlined that President Trump “delegated authority to the right level to aggressively and in a timely manner move against enemy vulnerabilities.” This meant that when those on the ground requested airstrikes, fewer layers of sign-off were required; the approval process was decentralized and, subsequently, faster.

Mattis has also said that another change was a “shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS.” The purpose behind this, Mattis outlined, was to dry up the flow of foreign fighters leaving the region.

Undeniably, the foreign-fighter flow was stunted.

Another shift came in the role of U.S. troops in combat operations. During the fight for Mosul, hundreds of U.S. Special Forces operators were given latitude to work much closer with their Iraqi partners. Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the head of U.S. military efforts in Syria and Iraq confirmed that “We are operating closer and deeper into Iraqi formations.”

That’s quite a divergence from the careful approach that Obama took, blocking over 75% of requested anti-ISIS airstrikes.

A study from the Media Research Center found that from Inauguration day to the end of 2018, the three major news networks spent over 10,000 minutes talking about the Trump presidency, only 33 minutes of which were related to ISIS. As the National Review’s Deroy Murdock put it; “There you have it: President Trump has helped shrink ISIS by 99 percent, while his nightly-news tormentors have spent 99.7 percent of their time looking elsewhere.” Go figure.

While the eventual defeat of ISIS was inevitable (as their strategy of provoking the entire planet into war in an attempt to bring about the apocalypse probably wasn’t the best idea), there is no question that Trump massively accelerated the demise of the so-called Caliphate, and for that he deserves credit.

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