Pompeo Says ISIS Caliphate 'Wiped Out' As Pentagon Warns Group Still Active

House Democrats have already opened an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's address to the Republican National Convention on Tuesday, amid allegations that America's top diplomat may have violated the Hatch Act and State Department guidance by appearing.

His pre-recorded address—filmed on a Jerusalem rooftop during sunset on Monday—lauded President Donald Trump's foreign policy record and claimed the administration had made Americans safer and the U.S. stronger.

As is expected of a convention speech, Pompeo glossed over some of the less successful and controversial aspects of the president's foreign policy record. Since taking the post in 2018, Pompeo has become one of the most vocal and influential Trump loyalists, often criticized by opponents for his stubborn defense of the president.

Pompeo's RNC speech touched on administration initiatives all over the world, though a significant portion focused on the Middle East. One of Trump's more clear-cut foreign policy successes is the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

ISIS militants and local affiliates are still fighting across the Middle East, but the group's contiguous so-called "caliphate" was destroyed by local forces supported by the U.S.-led coalition.

"When the president took office, radical Islamic terrorists had beheaded Americans and ISIS controlled a territory the size of Great Britain," Pompeo said Tuesday.

"Today, because of the president's determination and leadership, the ISIS caliphate is wiped out, it's gone. It's evil leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is dead and our brave soldiers, they're on their way home."

No military campaign is clean, and the U.S.-led coalition stands accused of inflicting a huge number of civilian casualties in the push to defeat ISIS, particularly in the major cities of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and their families remain in prisons and massive detention camps in Syria and Iraq, with little indication of how they will be processed. The huge camps house some of the caliphate's most committed followers—among them foreigners who traveled to join the group—and are hotbeds of extremism.

Earlier this month, the commander of U.S. Central Command said that while ISIS no longer has the ability to hold ground, it has not been completely defeated. Marine Corps General Kenneth McKenzie Jr. told the U.S. Institute of Peace on August 12 that enduring defeat depends on the ability of local forces to suppress ISIS on their own.

"One of the very highest priorities I have at Central Command is dealing with displaced persons and refugees," McKenzie said. "I think it's an unfortunate byproduct of the conflict in the region."

"Unless we find a way to repatriate, to deradicalize, to bring these people that are at grave risk in these camps back—preferably to their nations that they came from or to stay in Syria where appropriate, but with some form of deradicalization—we're buying ourselves a strategic problem 10 years down the road, 15 years down the road," McKenzie said.

Though the ISIS caliphate has collapsed, local anti-terror operations are continuing across the region, with surviving ISIS fighters reverting to the guerrilla warfare tactics that preceded their lighting advances across Iraq and Syria from 2014. U.S. troops remain in the region in support of these operations.

Trump has been accused of abandoning the very allies that defeated and are still suppressing ISIS. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) bore the brunt of the fighting against ISIS in Syria, taking more than 12,000 casualties during the campaign.

But the Trump administration left the SDF to face a Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria in 2019, with Trump repeatedly disparaging the strategic value of the region and instead focusing on the oil fields of eastern Syria, openly bragging that the U.S. had "taken" the oil.

But military officials have been clear on the importance of local allies. "We need sufficient security capacity at the local and state level to prevent ISIS remnants from posing a threat to stabilization efforts and governance," McKenzie said earlier this month.

"The future, particularly in Syria, is not going to be bloodless, or in Iraq, either," he explained. "But we can look to a future where security forces, local security forces, answerable to local elected leadership or appointed leadership, are going to be able to handle it without extensive outside help. That's what we need to aim for."

ISIS, Iraq, Mike Pompeo, RNC, speech, caliphate
An Iraqi fighter with the Popular Mobilisation Forces inspects the site of an ISIS attack in Mukaishefah, north of the capital Baghdad on May 3, 2020. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images/Getty