President Donald Trump said Tuesday that it is time for the United States to pass the fight against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) on to Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria, and to instead focus on maintaining control of oil resources in the region.
Speaking at a press conference in the Indian capital of New Delhi, Trump said that "nobody's done more than I've done" to battle ISIS in the Middle East, "but at the same time, Russia should do it, Iran should do it, Iraq should do it, Syria should do it." He focused on the Islamic Republic in particular, saying "Iran hates ISIS and they should do it."
"We've done a great job, we've taken our soldiers essentially out of Syria except for little hotspots we figure we'll develop," Trump added. "We've taken the oil and the soldiers we have there are the ones guarding the oil, we have the oil, so that's all we have there."
He said the U.S. continued to maintain a "small force" in Iraq and Afghanistan but was "moving out and moving around."
Trump's comments soon caught the attention of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who considered them an admission of "what we all knew: US troops in Syria to 'have the oil'" and "that Russia, Syria, & Iran can fight ISIS, confessing, "Iran hates ISIS.'"
The top Iranian diplomat also criticized Trump's assertion that his forces were contributing to the battle against the jihadi group, referencing his decision to assassinate Revolutionary Guard Major General Qassem Soelimani last month in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. "But not only did US NOT fight ISIS, it cowardly murdered its #1 enemy—with ONLY Trump cronies & ISIS celebrating," Zarif tweeted.
Soleimani was among the first to respond to ISIS' rapid gains in Iraq and Syria, assisting local government forces and Kurdish fighters while mobilizing allied Shiite Muslim militias to beat back the ultraconservative Sunni Muslim insurgency. When a U.S.-led coalition intervened in the two neighboring nations in 2014, Washington and Tehran found themselves on the same side in Iraq but on opposing ends of Syria's civil war.
The U.S. had initially supported the 2011 rebel and jihadi uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but shifted but in 2015 teamed up with the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces seeking to defeat ISIS. Around this same time, Russia intervened in favor of the Syrian government and its allies against opposition and militant groups.
Both Iraq and Syria had declared victory over ISIS by late 2017, the year Trump inherited the anti-ISIS campaign from his predecessor, and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces officially claimed to have defeated the group last March. Remnants of the group's self-proclaimed caliphate remain active, however, as do tensions between local, regional and international forces.
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