Tillerson Confirms US Will Set Up 'Safe Zones' in Syria

Cheryl Sanders
March 24, 2017

"Nearly all of Abu Bakr Baghdadi's deputies are now dead, including the mastermind behind the attacks in Brussels, Paris and elsewhere", Tillerson said at the start of a Washington summit for coalition members.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi will be killed as almost all of his deputies are now dead and it is "only a matter of time" that he meets the same fate.

Rex Tillerson is the former chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil.

The top U.S. diplomat claimed 75 percent reduction of ISIS content on the internet in one year, and the take-down of 475,000 ISIS-linked Twitter accounts.

Almost all of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's deputies are now dead. He said it was the first time USA forces have airlifted local fighters into combat in Syria. It has declared this a "safe zone", and indicated that it may begin sending Syrian refugees back inside.

The official said the plan would not resemble earlier proposals for safe zones backed by the Syrian opposition during the Obama years that would have involved USA warplanes patrolling the skies to deter Syrian government jets from bombing civilians and rebel forces.

The US will do its part but circumstances on the ground require more, he said, urging allies to allocate more military, financial resources toward defeating IS.

Increased U.S. or allied air power would be required if President Donald Trump chooses to enforce "no fly" restrictions, and ground forces might also be needed to protect civilians in those areas.

A final statement at the end of the meeting did not mention the possibility of safe zones.

In 2014, as ISIS militants seized vast swaths of Iraq and Syria, one senior military officer told Business Insider the rise of the terror group in the wake of USA troop departures was inevitable. "We were never close to favoring this solution", Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva, whose country is a member of the coalition, told FP.

"A "digital caliphate" must not flourish in the place of a physical one, Tillerson said adding that ISIS's handlers around the world spend their days at keyboards communicating with a would-be terrorist, methodically feeding a recruit's deranged desire to develop local networks or carry out attacks in their own countries". This was the first full meeting of the Global Coalition on the Defeat of ISIS since 2014, and a chance for the Trump administration to flesh out what it wants to do differently. The coalition will continue to fight along five tracks spelled out by the previous administration - a military campaign, targeting foreign terrorist fighters, supporting counterterrorism financing, stabilizing areas freed from the group and countering its messaging.

The northern city has been encircled and partially liberated by US-backed Iraqi forces, amid intense street battles, and officials now think the IS chief is cut off from command.

Using the new administration's favored acronym for the group, Tillerson said the coalition's goal was the "regional elimination of ISIS through military force".

Iraq's prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said the coalition's goal is not to contain ISIS but to "decimate" it.

"First of all, this is the Syrian Kurdistan, where the Turks and their allies are fighting not only against Daesh, but also Kurdish Self-Defense Forces from the Democratic Union", he said, describing Idlib as the second problematic region.

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