U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered an “accelerated operation” against Islamic State jihadists in Syria, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said Friday.
Mattis called it a “tactical shift,” saying the military would move away from operations designed to shove IS fighters out of seized locations, and instead focus on “surrounding the enemy in its stronghold.”
“The intent is to prevent the return home of escaped foreign fighters,” Mattis said, noting that the goal now is to “annihilate” the IS jihadists, not simply contain them.
He said “there is no escape” for IS members still in west Mosul, where the Iraqi military said earlier this week it had surrounded the city, though he noted there had been no change in the rules of engagement for coalition forces.
“We continue all possible efforts to protect the innocent,” Mattis said.
Mattis said more than four million people had been liberated so far during the campaign and “not one inch of territory has been recaptured.”
“We are leading a comprehensive international campaign to crush ISIS’s claim of invincibility, to deny ISIS a geographic haven from which to hatch murder, eliminate ISIS’s ability to operate externally and eradicate their ability to recruit and finance terrorist operations,” he said, using an acronym for so-called Islamic State.
Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, have removed IS jihadists from all but 12 square kilometers of Mosul, containing the remaining fighters in the Old City, where they are expected to make their last stand in coming weeks.
As the IS jihadists continue to lose ground, they’ve started using civilians as human shields, and killing those who attempt to flee the city.
The United Nations said Thursday it expects up to 200,000 more people to flee Mosul as Iraqi forces close in on the last remaining IS-held districts.
The battle for Mosul has already displaced more than 500,000 people, and it is believed that around 250,000 civilians are still trapped inside the city.