Spotlight: Experts dispute Trump's claims of beating IS all by himself

Source: Xinhua| 2017-10-21 16:55:57|Editor: ying
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by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this week patted himself on the back for defeating the Islamic State (IS), but many experts say much of the work had been already done by his predecessor.

The IS, a few years back, took vast swaths of territory in the Middle East, and launched attacks on innocent civilians in cities worldwide. However, the terror group has been beaten back, and was kicked out of its stronghold in Raqqa in northern Syria this week, signaling its defeat.

"I totally changed rules of engagement. I totally changed our military. I totally changed the attitudes of the military and they have done a fantastic job," Trump said in a radio interview earlier this week.

"ISIS is now giving up, they are giving up, there are raising their hands, they are walking off. Nobody has ever seen that before," he added.

But many say there is more to the story, from journalists to pundits to scholars.

Wayne White, former deputy director of the Middle East Intelligence Office of the State Department, told Xinhua that former President Barak Obama is largely responsible for the destruction of the vast majority of the IS' Syrian-Iraqi caliphate, not Trump.

Under the pressure from President Obama, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was ousted, and Iraq's shattered army was re-grouped and retrained by several thousand U.S. military personnel, and was able to make a difference under the new, cooperative Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, White said.

Before Trump took office, that rising new army, plus militias and anti-IS Sunni Arab tribes backed by vigorous U.S. airstrikes, retook most of the IS' former holdings in Iraq, focusing on key urban strongholds. They degraded the IS seriously, White said.

Obama gave more freedom to pilots to hit sensitive IS targets to increase its casualties in Iraq and Syria long before Trump came on the scene. Also in Syria, weapons, U.S. airstrikes, plus U.S. training and troops sent by Obama to aid the best anti-IS force there, the Kurds, retook much of the IS's gains in eastern and central Syria, White said.

By January 2017, the IS caliphate was being driven back on all fronts, with many of its fighters going into hiding, deserting or fleeing, White said. Trump had only just come to office that same month.

Writing for CNN, journalist Peter Bergen, who in the 1990s produced the first-ever televised interview with infamous terror leader Osama bin Laden, said while Trump loosened the rules of engagement, much of the heavy lifting had been done before he became president. While Trump enabled ground commanders to make decisions without having to go up the chain of command, that was a tactical change, not a major game changer, Bergen wrote on CNN's website.

Perhaps the two most symbolic victories against the IS have occurred while Trump was in office: the retaking of the Iraqi city of Mosul in July, and now the liberation of Raqqa, Syria, which was the IS' stronghold, Bergen noted.

U.S. officials have also claimed that the recapturing of IS-held territory has accelerated under Trump. Special Presidential Envoy McGurk who held the same role in the Obama administration said that of the 27,000 square miles (69,930 square km) of territory in Iraq and Syria reclaimed from the IS since 2014, around 8,000 square miles (20,720 square km) have been retaken under Trump's watch, Bergen said.

Newsweek noted this week that Trump's claim that he "changed the rules of engagement" has some support among military figures "who have expressed appreciation of greater leeway and authority in directing anti-ISIS operations."

"But Trump failed to recognize that he is building upon foundations established long before he came to office and, perhaps most pertinently, failed to recognize the overwhelming contribution made by local forces in ousting ISIS from its former capital," it argued.