WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi rose to their feet in a display of bipartisan support as President Donald Trump referenced the raid that led to the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during his State of the Union Tuesday.
Trump offered a distinct message to terrorists abroad: “you will never escape American justice.”
Islamic State group — also known as ISIS or ISIL — leader al-Baghdadi committed suicide during a raid on his northwest Syria compound on Oct. 26, 2019. The U.S. Army’s elite Delta Force carried out the deadly raid.
“My administration is strongly defending our national security and combating radical Islamic terrorism,” President Trump said during the 81-minute address.
Throughout his 2016 campaign, then-candidate Trump promised to eradicate the Islamic state group. In his 2020 address, he claimed to have made good on that pledge.
“Today,” Trump said, “the ISIS territorial caliphate has been 100 percent destroyed.”
However, the Defense Intelligence Agency said in a November report released by the Department of Defense Inspector General that “ISIS is postured to withstand” al-Baghdadi’s death.
Foreign policy experts say the Islamic State group is regaining territory in Iraq and Syria, aided by the pause of U.S. military operations against the Islamic State group amid tensions with Iran last month, catalyzed by the targeting killing of Iranian Gen. Qassam Soleimani.
“ISIL’s covert network has been being reestablished,” said Edmund Fitton-Brown, coordinator of the UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team concerning the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. The Islamic State group’s financial reserves are at an estimated $300 million, according to the Washington Institute, a Washington think tank focused on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
In his address, the president did not mention his October decision to pull American troops out of Syria, a former Islamic State group stronghold.
Trump also praised the “flawless precision strike” that killed Soleimani in January. The reference received bipartisan applause, although Speaker Pelosi did not offer a standing ovation. Days after Soleimani’s death, she led the House in passing a War Powers Resolution that would limit the president’s ability to wage war in Iran.
“[Soleimani] was actively planning new attacks when we hit him very hard,” President Trump said, without providing further details about why the attack was carried out last month.
President Trump called on the Iranian regime to “abandon its pursuit” of nuclear weapons and offered to assist Iran in rebuilding its economy, which has been hard hit by American sanctions.
Trump also said his administration is working to end the war in Afghanistan, the longest-ever U.S. conflict, and bring troops home.
The president concluded the section on Middle Eastern policy by reuniting military spouse Amy Williams with her husband, Sgt. First Class Townsend Williams, who has spent the past seven months in Afghanistan.
“As the world bears witness tonight,” Trump said, following thunderous applause as Sgt. Williams embraced his wife and children in the gallery, “America is a land of heroes.”