Top general warns ISIS waiting to resurge

Top general warns ISIS waiting to resurge
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The top U.S. general in charge of the Middle East warned Thursday that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is going underground and waiting to resurge as it is on the brink of a territorial defeat.

Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee that taking back ISIS’s physical territory is a “monumental military accomplishment.” But, he added, the fight against terrorism is still “far from over.”

“What we are seeing now is not the surrender of ISIS as an organization but a calculated decision to preserve the safety of their families and the preservation of their capabilities by taking their chances in camps for internally displaced persons and going to ground in remote areas and waiting for the right time to resurge," Votel said.

"Recent observations by our men and women on the ground highlight that the ISIS population being evacuated from the remaining vestiges of the caliphate largely remains unrepentant, unbroken and radicalized,” he added.

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Votel’s testimony comes at the Trump administration prepares to significantly draw down U.S. forces in Syria.

Late last year, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE declared victory against ISIS and announced he would withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. The administration has since reversed on a full-scale withdrawal, saying it will leave behind 400 U.S. troops, split evenly between northeast Syria and a base in southern Syria.

Votel said Thursday he has not been pressured to withdraw by a specific date, but declined to elaborate on details of the planned withdrawal in an unclassified setting.

ISIS’s territorial control is down to about "less than a single square mile” from the 34,000 square miles the terrorist group held at its height.

U.S. and American-backed forces have been battling ISIS in the final stronghold of the village of Baghuz, Syria.

Votel stressed the need to “maintain a vigilant offensive” against ISIS at it goes underground.

"We will need to maintain a vigilant offensive against this now widely dispersed and disaggregated organization that includes leaders, fighters, facilitators, resources and of course their toxic ideology," he said.

Votel, who is retiring later this month, previously told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was not consulted prior to Trump’s announcement of the withdrawal from Syria. He subsequently told CNN it would not have been his advice to withdraw.