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ISIS gaining strength in some areas, but caliphate is gone, Pompeo says

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged on Tuesday that ISIS militants are gaining strength in some areas but said the militant group's capacity to conduct attacks has been greatly diminished.

Militant group reportedly making gains in Iraq, Syria

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says ISIS fighters are gaining strength in some areas, but their self-declared caliphate has been defeated. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged on Tuesday that ISIS militants are gaining strength in some areas but said the militant group's capacity to conduct attacks has been greatly diminished.

"It's complicated. There are certainly places where ISIS is more powerful today than they were three or four years ago," Pompeo said in an interview with CBS This Morning. But he said the group's self-proclaimed caliphate is gone and its attack capability has been made much more difficult.

Pompeo was asked about a New York Times report that the militant group was gaining new strength in Iraq and Syria.

He also commented on ISIS at the UN Security Council, saying the Trump administration was reviving U.S. leadership in the region by building and supporting coalitions to tackle challenges in the area.

"We helped dismantle ISIS's physical caliphate and we continue … to help the region recover from that menace," he said. 

U.S. President Donald Trump said in December that U.S. troops had defeated Islamic State forces in Syria and were no longer needed in the country. "We won," he said at the time.

Pompeo told CBS  the plan to defeat ISIS was very successful.

Syrian civil defense volunteers celebrate in the northern city of Aleppo in August 2016. (Thaer Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images)

However, he cautioned that there is always risk that there will be a resurgence of "radical Islamic terrorist groups," including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

ISIS has survived past defeats and is already waging a low-level insurgency in areas it was driven from months or even years ago.

On Tuesday, a senior Chinese official warned that there was a danger of ISIS militants re-emerging in Syria and called for progress in the political process between the Damascus government and the opposition to end the war.

China has long worried about ethnic Uighurs from its far western region of Xinjiang who have traveled clandestinely to Syria and Iraq to fight with Islamist groups there.

Most recently, ISIS claimed responsibility for a wedding suicide attack that killed 63 people and wounded 182 on Saturday in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

This comes as the main insurgent group in the Syrian province of Idlib pulled out of a key rebel town, as government forces advanced on the area amid intense bombardment and airstrikes.

Government troops moved into northern and western neighborhood of Khan Sheikhoun as the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham militants withdrew.

It's a significant gain for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces as they try regain territory in the region. The northwestern province, dominated by an al-Qaeda-linked faction, is the last major rebel-held bastion in Syria.

Islamist rebels from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham have pulled out of a key rebel town, as government forces advanced on the area. (Reuters)

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Syria's main al-Qaeda-linked faction, said in a statement that its fighters carried out "a re-deployment," withdrawing to areas south of the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Syrian state TV said government troops have expanded their presence in the Khan Sheikhoun area, without giving further details.

Syrian government forces have been on the offensive in Idlib and northern parts of Hama province since April 30, forcing nearly half a million people to flee to safer areas further north.

The fighting also killed more than 2,000 people, including hundreds of civilians.

With files from CBC News

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