WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is winning its fight against the Islamic State group and enlarging an international coalition to defeat the group, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday, hours after President Donald Trump said “ISIS is falling fast, very fast.”
“We’re winning. They’re losing. How’s that?” an upbeat Mattis told reporters after a closed-door briefing at the Capitol.
Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with House members for more than 90 minutes. Mattis said they updated lawmakers on “where we’re at in the defeat-ISIS campaign” and building an international coalition, “which is enlarging as you know.”
The briefing came hours after Trump and Vice President Mike Pence met with Mattis at the Pentagon. A Pentagon spokeswoman said the roughly two-hour meeting was a “broad overview” that touched on Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea and other countries. No decisions were made in the meeting and there was no talk of timelines, said spokeswoman Dana White.
The president didn’t address an anticipated spike in troop levels in Afghanistan Thursday, telling reporters, “We’ll see. And we’re doing very well against ISIS. ISIS is falling fast, very fast.”
The Trump administration hopes to address weaknesses in Afghan forces with a new strategy and the introduction of several thousand American forces. There are now about 8,400 there.
Asked about possible troop increases, Mattis said, “I’m sure the president will make a decision soon.”
Trump avoided providing any specifics on the Pentagon meeting, which he described as “very good.” He said “you’ll be hearing” about future action in Afghanistan.
About two dozen men and women in dress uniform lined both sides of the “Chairman’s Hallway” in the Pentagon. The meeting took place in a secure meeting room colloquially known as “the tank” — where the Joint Chiefs of Staff typically meet. When Trump emerged, he greeted each serviceman and woman one by one, shaking hands and saying a word or two to each. Pence followed.
Mattis said after the congressional meeting that lawmakers expressed support for the administration’s efforts. “I have no doubt we have the support of Congress, and that was loud and clear,” Mattis said.
The administration has been searching for an improved approach to achieving the goal it inherited from the Obama administration: getting the Afghan government to a point where it can defend itself.
Trump has largely ceded decision-making to Mattis, who is expected to send nearly 4,000 more troops to the country this summer.
US-backed Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul after that city was held for around three years by the Islamic State group. The Pentagon announced last week that US forces killed the head of the Islamic State group affiliate in Afghanistan in an airstrike in Kunar province.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called the briefing helpful. “Certainly we’ve made progress on the battlefield,” Schiff said. “I think the political progress in Iraq has been very slow and in Syria … it’s more complicated. It’s a very difficult problem to solve.”
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.