WASHINGTON - Even as Islamic State militants are losing the last of their territory in Syria, the militants who remain are unbroken and radicalized, and represent a "serious generational problem," the top U.S. commander for the Mideast said Thursday.
Gen. Joseph Votel told the House Armed Services Committee that unless the extremist group and its ideology are handled properly, IS will sow the seeds of future violent extremism.
"What we are seeing now is not the surrender of ISIS as an organization but a calculated decision to preserve the safety of their families and preservation of their capabilities," said Votel, adding that the insurgents are going to ground in remote areas, "waiting for the right time to resurge."
Votel's assessment provides a reality check to President Donald Trump's repeated assertion in recent weeks that IS has been defeated and lost 100 percent of its "caliphate," which once covered a vast territory straddling Syria and Iraq.
Votel said IS now holds less than a single square mile, a retreat that he called "a monumental military accomplishment." But he said the fight against IS and violent extremism is far from over.
A stubborn group of militants has kept that sliver of land in the Middle Euphrates River Valley for weeks, and many militants have escaped and scattered to other areas of the country where they are now in hiding.