ADDS SANDERS STATEMENT
By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - The Daesh terrorist group has lost all territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria, President Donald Trump declared Friday following a near five-year U.S.-led campaign.
Trump made the pronouncement in brief remarks to reporters after arriving in Florida, displaying a map showing Daesh in control of a wide region compared to its present-day status.
"There's ISIS and that's what we have right now as of last night," Trump said, using another name for Daesh while pointing to a map of the region devoid of the terror group. "I think it's about time."
Trump has on several past occasions erroneously claimed Daesh's defeat.
But this pronouncement was followed by a briefing during the flight to Florida by acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Sanders said it was the Pentagon, not the president, who "made the call” about Daesh's defeat.
U.S.-allied forces have been fighting Daesh in its last remaining pocket in Baghouz, Syria.
Trump has long vowed to withdraw the U.S.'s 2,000 troops from the war-torn country following Daesh's defeat. But his abrupt pronouncement in December roiled close international allies, and received significant pushback from American lawmakers, some of whom are key to the president's legislative agenda.
Trump has conceded to leave some troops in the country's northeast, with the White House saying some 200 will remain as part of an international peacekeeping force in the north and about the same number will be used to secure a garrison along a strategic roadway in the southeast.
But the number has been contested with at least one report suggesting the total force figure could be closer to 1,000, a claim denied by the Pentagon's top brass.
The Wall Street Journal, however, stuck by its reporting which suggested Washington is seeking to continue its cooperation with the YPG-led SDF despite Turkey's warnings that it will conduct a cross-border operation against the PKK's Syrian offshoot.
The PKK is a designated terrorist organization in the U.S. and Turkey.