Vice President Mike Pence is facing harsh criticism after he claimed ISIS had been defeated on the same day that the terrorist group killed American soldiers in Syria.
Pence declared that "the caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated" during remarks to the Global Chiefs of Mission conference at the US State Department on Wednesday, according to CNN. Pence's remarks did not mention the ISIS attack and did not offer condolences. Although the coalition opposing ISIS tweeted about the attacks nearly an hour before Pence's speech, a White House official claims that the administration had not "publicly confirmed the deaths at the time (Pence) spoke."
His speech also claimed that "thanks to the leadership of this commander in chief and the courage and sacrifice of our armed forces, we're now actually able to begin to hand off the fight against ISIS in Syria to our coalition partners and we're bringing our troops home." Although he added that the United States did not intend to "stay in the region and we'll stay in the fight to insure that ISIS does not rear its ugly head again," he insisted that "we will protect the gains that our soldiers and our coalition partners have secured."
Later on Wednesday, after learning about the deaths of the American servicemen at the hands of ISIS, the Vice President's office released a public statement condemning the ISIS attacks.
"President Trump and I condemn the terrorist attacks in Syria that claimed American lives and our hearts are with the loved ones of the fallen," Pence said in the statement. "We honor their memory and we will never forget their service and sacrifice."
He added, "Thanks to the courage of our Armed Forces, we have crushed the ISIS caliphate and devastated its capabilities. As we begin to bring our troops home, the American people can be assured, for the sake of our soldiers, their families, and our nation, we will never allow the remnants of ISIS to reestablish their evil and murderous caliphate — not now, not ever."
Trump's policies toward Syria have come under scrutiny after he made the seemingly arbitrary decision on Dec. 19 to declare that the United States had "won" in that conflict and would withdraw its troops. Although national security adviser John Bolton later seemed to walk that back, Trump later reiterated on Twitter that "we will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!"
Trump's decision also earned him the ire of fellow Republicans including one of his most outspoken supporters, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
"Withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake," Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina wrote as the first in a series of tweets. "With all due respect, ISIS is not defeated in Syria, Iraq, and after just returning from visiting there -- certainly not Afghanistan. President @realDonaldTrump is right to want to contain Iranian expansion. However, withdrawal of our forces in Syria mightily undercuts that effort and put our allies, the Kurds at risk. A decision to withdraw will also be viewed as a boost to ISIS desire to come back."