Fact Check: The truth behind the fight against Islamic State

The Week checks out Donald Trump's claim to have made more progress against the terror group than Barack Obama

Iraqi forces, ISIS flag
(Image credit: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty)

Donald Trump claims to have made unprecedented progress in the fight against Islamic State, but critics accuse him of ignoring gains made by the previous administration.

What has Trump claimed?

Speaking at a joint press conference with King Abdullah of Jordan at the White House last week, the US President said "more has been done in the last six weeks than has been done in years with the previous administration".

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He also vowed to "destroy" the terrorist group before the end of his tenure.

"It will be a shorter fight than a lot of people are thinking about, believe me. We've made tremendous strides," he said.

How did the press react?

The Associated Press says Trump's "overboard" assessment of the war against Islamic State ignores substantial advancements made by former president Barack Obama and his administration.

"There was far more progress against IS over the past year than in the last six week," it says.

However, the Los Angeles Times claims the President deserves some credit. "The long offensive, begun by Obama, is moving rapidly toward success," writes the paper's Doyle McManus.

What did Obama achieve?

In September 2014, Obama launched the US-led coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Reluctant to put combat troops on the ground, he initially said involvement in the conflict would be limited to air strikes, along with training and equipping local military personnel. However, several hundred Special Forces troops were eventually deployed.

Obama admitted early on it was unlikely the battle against Islamic State would be won during his time in office, but major gains were still made under his watch. IS lost huge swathes of territory in both Syria and Iraq, including the strategic Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. Its finances were also badly hit, with revenues from its oil and gas supplies dropping dramatically as direct result of US-led air strikes.

In the final weeks of Obama's time in office, the Pentagon confirmed that US air strikes had killed three Islamic State leaders in Syria, including two militants involved in the 2015 attacks in Paris.

The former president can also claim some credit for a 90 per cent drop in the flow of foreign fighters during the last year under his tenure – a figure US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cited just last month.

And what about Trump?

Major developments in the fight against IS militants have occurred since Trump took office, most notably the ongoing operation to capture western Mosul, the group's last major stronghold in Iraq.

Trump has also increased the number of boots on the ground in Syria in an attempt to speed up the fight, despite his campaign pledge to limit US involvement in foreign conflicts. Last month, 400 extra troops were deployed to assist Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters near the city of Raqqa in preparation for an assault on Islamic State's self-proclaimed capital.

In addition, the administration is said to be considering sending a further 1,000 troops to Kuwait to serve as a reserve force.

US warplanes have continued their bombing campaign against IS, amid a significant spike in reported civilian casualties in Syria in recent months.

The New York Times argues that Trump's overall military strategy is almost identical to his predecessor's.

"The only clear difference between the Obama strategy and that of the Trump administration has been a loosening of restrictions on air strikes," it says. "The potential downside of that change came [last month] when at least 30 Syrian civilians were killed in an airstrike."

Who is right?

While Trump is correct in arguing that significant strides have been made in recent months, his actions have not yet matched the progress made under the Obama administration.

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