US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged on Tuesday that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) fighters are gaining strength in some areas but said the armed 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’s This Morning. But he said the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate was gone and its attack capability had been made much more difficult.
Pompeo was asked about a New York Times report that ISIL was gaining new strength in Iraq and Syria.
President Donald Trump said in December that US troops succeeded in their mission to defeat ISIL in Syria and were no longer needed in the country. “We won,” he said at the time.
Pompeo said the plan to defeat ISIL in the region was executed with 80 other countries and was very successful.
However, he cautioned that there was always a risk that there would be a resurgence of “radical Islamic terrorist groups”, including ISIL.
The group claimed responsibility for a wedding suicide attack that killed 63 people and wounded 182 on Saturday in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
In the same interview with CBS, Pompeo was also asked about talks with North Korea.
The secretary of state said the US had not returned to the negotiation table with North Korea as quickly as it had hoped, but he added that Washington knew there would be “bumps on the road” in the denuclearisation talks.
Pompeo said Washington was concerned about North Korea’s firing of short-range missiles. “I wish they would not,” he said, referring to the tests.
The latest of the missile tests by North Korea was carried out on Friday as Pyongyang fired two more short-range projectiles into the sea off its east coast. It was the sixth round of launches since last month, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un labelling them a “solemn warning” over US-South Korean joint military drills that began earlier this month.
The launches have complicated attempts to restart talks between US and North Korean negotiators over the future of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.
Those denuclearisation talks have been stalled despite a commitment to revive them that was made at a June 30 meeting between Trump and Kim.
“We haven’t gotten back to the table as quickly as we hoped but we’ve been pretty clear all along, we knew there would be bumps along the way,” Pompeo said.
He added that Stephen Biegun, the US special envoy for North Korea, was in the region on Tuesday and Wednesday, but did not elaborate on the details of his trip. The State Department said last week that Biegun would travel to Japan and Seoul this week.