The US military’s top enlisted officer has a very blunt message for ISIS's remaining fighters: Surrender or US troops and their partners will “kill them with extreme prejudice,” including but not limited to “dropping bombs on them, shooting them in the face, or beating them to death with our entrenching tools.”
In Facebook and Twitter posts on Wednesday, Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, who serves as the senior enlisted adviser to the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also debuted a new hashtag in the three-year long campaign against the terrorist group: #ISIS_SurrenderOrDie.
“ISIS needs to understand that the Joint Force is on orders to annihilate them,” he wrote. “So, they have two options should they decide to come up against the United States, our allies and partners: surrender or die!”
If they do surrender, Troxell promised, “we will safeguard them to their detainee facility cell, provide them chow, a cot and due process. … Regardless, they cannot win, so they need to choose how it's going to be.”
Despite these fighting words, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last month said the fight against ISIS was “shifting from an offensive terrain-seizing approach to stabilizing” in 2018, now that the group has been driven out of its self-declared caliphate. In layman's terms: Rather than pursuing ISIS and taking over its territory, building up the spaces that the group had abandoned. This will include a larger US civilian presence and “more US diplomats on the ground," he told reporters in December.
Troxell’s post included a photo of a US soldier wielding the entrenchment or e-tool — which is essentially a military shovel — with the hashtag in white letters. While Troxell’s post was both mocked and celebrated on social media on Wednesday, it drew attention to the fact that despite declarations of victory, the US war on ISIS is not over.
There are less than 1,000 remaining ISIS fighters, “most of whom are being hunted down in the desert regions in eastern Syria and Western Iraq,” the US-led international coalition said last month. More than 98% of the territory once claimed by ISIS has been recaptured, according to the Pentagon.
Even so, the US general who heads the anti-ISIS coalition warned that despite losing its territory, the group could continue as a shadow organization.
"Their repressive ideology continues,” Army Lt. Gen. Paul Funk said in a New Year’s message posted on Facebook. "The conditions remain present for [ISIS] to return, and only through coalition and international efforts can the defeat become permanent."
US military officials say that American troops will remain in Syria to guard against any resurgence of ISIS militants — in the words of Mattis, “ISIS 2.0.” The Pentagon last month acknowledged that there are roughly 2,000 US troops on the ground in Syria, after months of insisting that number was 500.
Last month, Trump lauded the success of the “campaign to obliterate ISIS” in Iraq and Syria, effectively declaring victory.
“We’ve won in Syria, we’ve won in Iraq. But they spread to other areas, and we’re getting them as fast as they spread,” he said. Syria also declared victory over ISIS last month, as did Iraq, where the group at one point controlled about a third of the country.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Troxell's new hashtag #ISIS_SurrenderOrDie did not seem to have taken off.
Vera Bergengruen is a Pentagon reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Vera Bergengruen at email@example.com.
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