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US State Department says ISIS' defeat 'dramatically accelerated' under Trump

(Reuters/Rodi Said)Fighters from Syrian Democratic Force walk past damaged buildings in Raqqa city, Syria.

The U.S.-led coalition and its allies have reclaimed almost a third of territory from the Islamic State terror group mainly due to the changes implemented by President Donald Trump and his administration, according to a senior State Department official.

Brett McGurk, the State Department's senior envoy to the U.S.-backed coalition fighting Islamic State, told The Washington Post on Friday that out of the 27,000 square miles of territory reclaimed from ISIS, about 8,000 square miles were recovered under the Trump administration.

Since its peak in early 2015, the terror group has lost 78 percent of territory in Iraq and 58 percent in Syria.

McGurk, who has held the same job under former President Barack Obama, noted that gains against ISIS under the Trump administration have almost entirely stopped civilian displacements in the countries and enabled thousands of people to return to their homes.

Around 45 percent of territory held by ISIS in Raqqa, the terror group's de facto Syrian capital, has been recovered since the U.S.-backed local forces launched an offensive two months ago.

"This is due to some key changes that were put in place very early on — three changes — initiatives from President Trump," said McGurk.

The senior envoy stated that one of the key changes was the "campaign of annihilation," which sees enemy cities surrounded before battle, to minimize the number of militants that are able to escape.

He contended that the 2,000 militants that are still in Raqqa "will most likely die in Raqqa" when it is retaken. The U.N., however, has warned that about 25,000 civilians still remain in the Syrian city.

McGurk also noted that the Trump administration has renewed efforts to "increase burden sharing from the coalition," which consists of 73 countries. He said that most of the coalition members are expected to help stabilize locations that have been taken back from ISIS by U.S. airstrikes and on-the-ground work from local allies.

The senior official explained that the U.S. was working to clear and rebuild basic infrastructure, but it will not be taking part in reconstruction or nation-building.

He said that the U.S. and its partner nations will take part in efforts to remove mines, clear rubble and return the basic services like electricity, sewage and water so that displaced residents can return under the leadership of local councils.

"People say, 'We want you to run the hospital, the schools.' We say, 'No, we're not very good at that.' It's not our responsibility," McGurk said.

Despite the success under Trump, human rights groups have criticized the new strategy due to the high number of civilian casualties.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group, reported in June that 472 civilians were killed during the U.S.-led coalition strikes within a month in two Syrian provinces.

McGurk contended that ISIS is using civilians as human shields and endangering their lives to deter the coalition and hold on to their key assets for a longer period of time.

"They are using snipers to kill civilians who are trying to escape. They're trying to put suicide bombers in columns of displaced people as they try to get out—the similar tactics we've seen from this barbaric terrorist organization," he said.

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