Pence says al-Baghdadi raid shows administration will be "unrelenting" in ISIS fight

Pence says U.S. will be "unrelenting" in fight against ISIS

Washington — Vice President Mike Pence hailed the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a U.S. special forces raid as an important victory in the Trump administration's strategy to weaken and dismantle the global terrorist group, which has come under scrutiny after the president's controversial decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria. 

"Last night, the president of the United States proved to the world that our fight against ISIS is unrelenting and by killing the leader of ISIS — the active operational leader of ISIS, who is reported just two weeks ago as giving orders to ISIS fighters in Syria — we believe will have a measurable impact on the effectiveness of that terrorist organization," Pence said on "Face the Nation" Sunday. 

"We're not going to let up," the vice president added. "We're not going to stop the fight."

President Trump announced al-Baghdadi's death in graphic detail during an address to the nation on Sunday morning. Mr. Trump said the ISIS leader killed himself and some of his children "like a coward" by detonating a suicide vest in a tunnel on a compound in the Idlib province of northwestern Syria after U.S. special operations forces breached the walls and took out many of his fighters.

Asked how the pledge to continue an "unrelenting" campaign against ISIS squares with the president's abrupt decision earlier this month to withdraw all U.S. troops from northern Syria, Pence said the administration has kept some forces in other parts of Syria and in Iraq to continue fighting the terrorist organization. 

The decision to retreat from northern Syria elicited withering criticism from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, who believed it would leave U.S.-allied Kurdish forces vulnerable to Turkish invasion from the north, which occurred soon after the American drawdown. 

Lawmakers have also warned that the decision could lead to a resurgence of ISIS, as the Kurds were the main fighting force on the ground in the campaign to defeat ISIS and had imprisoned thousands of ISIS militants and supporters.  

But Pence on Sunday continued to defend the decision. 

"The president looked at the circumstances where we had American forces essentially providing a safe zone patrol on the Turkish border, " he said. "That was not the mission."

Although the president in his remarks on Sunday morning seemed to downplay the role of Kurdish forces in the operation that led to al-Baghdadi's death, Pence himself highlighted the assistance of the main U.S-allied Kurdish group in Syria. 

"This operation last night though was a real testament to the relationships that we've forged with Syrian Democratic Forces," he said.

  • Camilo Montoya-Galvez
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    Camilo Montoya-Galvez is the immigration reporter at CBS News. Based in Washington, he covers immigration policy and politics. Twitter: @camiloreports