U.S. Now Engaged in Tactics of 'Annihilation' Against ISIS, Mattis Says

Intention is that foreign fighters 'do not survive the fight' to return home, says U.S. defense secretary

Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) fire towards Islamic State militants during a battle on the outskirts of Al-Ba'aj, west of Mosul, Iraq May 26, 2017.
STRINGER/REUTERS

United States efforts against Islamic States have shifted from tactics of attrition to those of "annihilation," U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Sunday, and appeared to brush aside concerns for civilians.

“We have already shifted from attrition tactics, where we shove them from one position to another in Iraq and Syria, to annihilation tactics where we surround them," Mattis told CBS' Face The Nation.

"Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa. We’re not going to allow them to do so. We’re going to stop them there and take apart the caliphate.”

Asked whether he is concerned of the risk such tactics pose to civilians, Mattis responded: "Civilian casualties are a fact of life in this sort of situation. We do everything humanly possible consistent with military necessity, taking many chances to avoid civilian casualties at all costs.”

Mattis was also asked: “What keeps you awake at night?”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stands in front of a map of Syria and Iraq during a news conference at the Pentagon, Friday, May 19, 2017, to give an update on the Islamic State group
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

“Nothing,” he said. “I keep other people awake at night.”

Iraqi armed forces on Saturday launched an operation to capture ISIS'-held enclave in Mosul. The enclave covers mainly the Old City center and three adjacent districts alongside the western bank of the Tigris River.

The Iraqi air force dropped leaflets on Friday urging residents in the enclave to flee, raising fears among humanitarian groups for the safety of desperate civilians there. Save the Children warned that fleeing civilians could be caught in the crossfire, leading to "deadly chaos."