Trump says we've hit ISIS "much harder" over the last two days. There's no evidence of that.

Trump Says We’ve Hit ISIS “Much Harder” Over the Last Two Days. There’s No Evidence of That.

Trump Says We’ve Hit ISIS “Much Harder” Over the Last Two Days. There’s No Evidence of That.

The Slatest
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Nov. 3 2017 10:55 AM

Trump Says We’ve Hit ISIS “Much Harder” Over the Last Two Days. There’s No Evidence of That.

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Smoke is seen following an airstrike on the western frontline of Raqa on July 17, 2017, during an offensive by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

AFP/Getty Images

President Trump claimed on Twitter this morning that in response to ISIS’s claim of responsibility for the New York attack, the military has hit ISIS “much harder” over the last two days.

This timeline makes no sense. ISIS’s claim was published Thursday, the day before this tweet. But perhaps Trump was referring to the evidence released Tuesday that Sayfullo Saipov supported ISIS (based on what we know now, he seems unlikely to have been under direct orders from the group, despite ISIS’s claim that he was “one of the caliphate soldiers”). There’s some precedent for this kind of instant retaliation: France bombed ISIS targets in Syria two days after the 2015 attacks in Paris. The thing is, there’s no evidence of increased U.S. military activity in the last two days.

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According to Operation Inherent Resolve’s daily strike reports, the coalition carried out “11 strikes consisting of 11 engagements against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq” on Nov. 1 and “13 strikes consisting of 15 engagements” on Nov. 2. Most notably, six strikes were launched, destroying a bomb factory and an ISIS headquarters near Deir Ezzor, ISIS’s last remaining stronghold in Syria. (Don’t be misled by the word headquarters. The coalition uses the word to describe a wide variety of facilities, and they get hit pretty regularly.)

That number of strikes is nothing unusual, judging by the compilation of these reports published by the monitoring group Airwars. Oct. 31 saw 13 strikes and 18 engagements. Oct. 25 saw 15 strikes with 25 engagements. In general, Airwars data shows that the number of strikes was way down in October, which makes sense given the fall of Raqqa earlier this month. There’s less ISIS to bomb.

It is true that Iraqi forces have pushed into one of the last remaining pockets of ISIS-held territories on the Iraqi side of the border in recent days, but it’s hard to imagine they were waiting for an attack in New York to do that. The Syrian government also claimed victory in the city of Deir Ezzor, but they don’t exactly take their marching orders from Trump.

What about elsewhere? The most recent drone strike against ISIS in Yemen that we know of was Oct. 25, according to New America. The last strike in Afghanistan was reported on Oct. 29, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, but probably happened several days earlier.

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Asked about Trump’s claim, Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesperson, told me by e-mail, “We have, and we will continue to strike ISIS hard and often, along with Al-Qaeda and other affiliated or like-minded violent extremist organizations wherever they are globally. We are fighting and killing ISIS in operations in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Philippines, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, the Sinai in Egypt and wherever these groups emerge.”

It’s possible there’s been some covert action we don’t know about—in which case the president probably shouldn’t be tweeting about it—but from publicly available data, these seem to have been two perfectly average days in the war on ISIS.

Update: 4:00 p.m.: Perhaps this is what Trump was referring to? 

The U.S. Africa Command says “several terrorists” were killed as the U.S. for the first time conducted two airstrikes against Islamic State group fighters in Somalia.

A statement to The Associated Press says the airstrikes were carried out early Friday in northeastern Somalia in coordination with Somalia’s government.

Though again, nothing in the reporting suggests this was in retaliation for New York. 

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and author of the forthcoming book, Invisible Countries.