President Donald Trump has ordered the U.S. to ramp up its campaign against Islamic State with an “annihilation” campaign to surround and kill terrorists rather than chasing them out of territory in Iraq and Syria, his defense chief said

Residents flee their neighborhood as Iraqi forces continue their military offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State on May 19, 2017.

President Donald Trump has ordered the U.S. to ramp up its campaign against Islamic State with an annihilation campaign to surround and kill terrorists rather than chasing them out of territory in Iraq and Syria, his defense chief said.

Weve accelerated the campaign, Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters Friday at the Pentagon.

Since his run for the presidency, Trump has promised what he sometimes called his secret plan to defeat the terrorists, and in recent days he boasted that my generals would be spelling out how hes stepped up the military campaign waged under former President Barack Obama.

After Mattis said the coalition has retaken more than 55 percent of Islamic State territory since 2014, he clarified that those gains were under way before Trump took office. I was not saying it all started with us, he added.

Still, the terror group isnt broken yet. A campaign to seize Mosul in Iraq has been mired in street-by-street fighting and a long-promised push to take Raqqa in Syria has yet to begin.

Read why Trumps arming of Syrian Kurds is riling Turkey

Mattis said that under Trump, the Pentagon led a government-wide review of U.S.-led efforts fighting the Islamic State, which it then presented to the president.

We submitted that report, and after his review, he then ordered an accelerated operation against Islamic State, leading to two significant changes, Mattis said. First, he delegated authority to the right level to aggressively — and in a timely manner — move against enemy vulnerabilities. Battlefield commanders have been given more authority to make decisions.

Second, Trump directed a tactical shift in the battle, from shoving ISIS out of seized locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS, Mattis said using an acronym for the group. The intent is to prevent foreign fighters from escaping and returning to attack in their home countries.

We now take the time to surround them — and why do we do it?” Mattis said. We carry out the annihilation campaign” so that the foreign fighters do not get out.

For more than a week, Trump repeatedly plugged Mattiss appearance, adding to expectations. Responding to a question during a news conference Thursday at the White House, Trump recited a list of what he considers successes of his administration so far.

Youre going to see some incredible numbers with respect to the success of General Mattis and others with the ISIS situation, Trump said. The numbers are staggering, how successful the military has been.

Mattis spoke to reporters at the Pentagon along with Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Brett McGurk, presidential envoy for the U.S.-led coalition.

Dunford said the U.S. continues to work with Russia on deconfliction of their ground forces in Syria and my impression is the Russians are as enthusiastic as we are. Russia has proposed four de-escalation zones in Syria, a plan backed by Iran and Turkey. The Trump administration has neither openly supported the initiative nor ruled it out.

The U.S. role in the campaign against Islamic State will be a theme during Trumps first overseas trip as the president talks with allies. He leaves Friday for Saudi Arabia and then heads to Israel and Rome before joining a NATO summit in Brussels next week. Hell meet there again with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who visited the White House Tuesday.

Mattis, Dunford and McGurk all defended the U.S. decision to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria to help seize Raqqa, Islamic States stronghold in Syria, over strong objections from Erdogan, who contends the Kurds are allied with Kurdish groups in Turkey who are considered terrorists.

Mattis described Islamic State as a long-term threat and said the U.S. is there to drive ISIS to its knees, but added that only a political solution would resolve larger issues facing Syria. He wouldnt comment on how long U.S. troops will be needed.

Read more at: www.bloomberg.com

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