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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

ISIS lost its Syrian capital, Raqqa, last week. Trump issued a congratulatory statement; but we've not seen any George W. Bush-style "Mission Accomplished" speeches.

I spoke to Dana White, the top spokeswoman for Defense Secretary James Mattis, about where the U.S. military is at in its fight against ISIS and what challenges lie ahead.

Shrinking caliphate: In Iraq and Syria the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Iraqi Special Forces — with the help of the U.S. military — have retaken an area the size of California. White says that what ISIS still controls "is a territory slightly smaller than New York State."

Most importantly: White points out that "ISIS has not regained an inch of the territory it has lost."

Bottom line: The power of intimidation, to use Mattis' phrase, is working great. But now comes the hard part.

  • What White calls "the stabilization piece" — working with Syrians and Iraqis on the ground to ensure ISIS doesn't make a comeback — is going to be incredibly tough and time-consuming work.
  • Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, "is responsible for ensuring the hard fought military gains are maintained — ensuring the 73 coalition members (NATO, Arab League, Interpol and EU) continue to support these communities after the fighting stops."
  • "It's why Secretary Mattis and Tillerson work so closely together," White says, "and why [Mattis] insists on having a State Department rep with him when he meets any of his counterparts."

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

House cancels Thursday session as FBI, Homeland Security warn of threat to Capitol

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security predict violent domestic extremists attacks will increase in 2021, according to a report obtained by Axios.

Driving the news: The joint report says extremists have discussed plans to take control of the Capitol and "remove Democratic lawmakers" on or about March 4. The House canceled its plans for Thursday votes as word of the possible threats spread.

3 hours ago - World

Pope Francis set to make first papal visit to Iraq amid possible turmoil

Data: Vatican News; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Pope Francis is forging ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite new coronavirus outbreaks and fears of instability.

The big picture: The March 5–8 visit is intended to reassure Christians in Iraq who were violently persecuted under the Islamic State. Francis also hopes to further ties with Shiite Muslims, AP notes.

"Neanderthal thinking": Biden slams states lifting mask mandates

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).

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