Trump: US hitting Isis ‘much harder’ after New York attack

Pentagon apparently taken by surprise by US president’s Twitter and White House assertions

US president Donald Trump speaks to reporters, as first lady Melania Trump looks on, before boarding Marine One for a trip to Hawaii and later Asia, at the White House on Friday. Photograph: Tom Brenner/New York Times

US president Donald Trump speaks to reporters, as first lady Melania Trump looks on, before boarding Marine One for a trip to Hawaii and later Asia, at the White House on Friday. Photograph: Tom Brenner/New York Times

 

Donald Trump said on Friday the US has been attacking Islamic State “10 times harder” in the days following the New York terrorist attack, though the claim was not supported by any available military data.

The US president’s assertions on Twitter and in remarks at the White House appear to have caught the Pentagon by surprise. “We are working on that and I don’t have anything for you yet,” said a spokesman. He suggested checking directly with the White House, and Central Command, which oversees all Middle East and Afghanistan operations.

The daily data produced by Central Command’s counter-Islamic State campaign, Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), did not show any increase in bombing sorties and or other attacks on the terror group, als known as Isis since Tuesday’s truck attack on a New York bicycle path.

The attack was carried out by an Uzbek immigrant who was claimed by Islamic State on Thursday as one of its “soldiers”.

However, the defence department did report that the US had carried out two air strikes against Islamic State targets in north-eastern Somalia early on Friday, the first time the group has been targeted by US aircraft in that country. It is not clear whether Trump was referring to those sorties.

Mr Trump had insisted that the US military had escalated its counter-Islamic State campaign in the wake of that unsubstantiated claim in an Isis publication.

“Based on that, the Military has hit ISIS ‘much harder’ over the last two days. They will pay a big price for every attack on us!” the president wrote on Twitter on Friday.

He went further in remarks to reporters at the White House later, saying the US would hit Islamic State 10 times harder every time there was an attack on the US. He said the military action he was talking about had taken place on Thursday.

“What we’re doing is every time we are attacked from this point forward and it took place yesterday, we are hitting them 10 times harder,” he said. “So when we have an animal do an attack like he did the other day on the west side of Manhattan, we are hitting them 10 times harder. They claim him as a soldier, good luck. Every time they hit us, we know it is Isis, we hit them like you folks won’t believe.”

Air strikes

However, Central Command’s OIR action report shows no significant increase in the military tempo on Thursday, with 13 air strikes carried out. That was slightly up on Wednesday, when there were 11 strikes, but the same as Tuesday, the day of the attack.

The two air strikes in Somalia were reported to have taken place at about midnight local time and then later in the morning. The Associated Press quoted an unnamed Somali security official as saying at least six missiles struck in Buqa, a remote mountainous village roughly 60km north of Qandala town in Somalia’s northern state of Puntland.

The intensity of the campaign had been much higher in the preceding months, with the campaigns to take Mosul and Raqqa, the Islamic State strongholds in Iraq and Syria respectively. Both those campaigns were set in motion by the Obama administration and with their completion the pace of OIR operations has lessened as Isis has dispersed into the Syrian and Iraqi countryside.

Meanwhile the sister of the suspect in the New York attack, Sayfullo Saipov, appealed to Mr Trump to ensure he gets a fair trial and suggested he might have been brainwashed.

Mr Trump has called for Saipov to receive the death penalty and mused about sending him to Guantánamo Bay.

Umida Saipova told Radio Free Europe she and her family hoped her brother would not be sentenced to death in some rushed show trial.

“We don’t know who has brainwashed him,” Ms Saipova told RFE. “Perhaps he’s become part of some organised group. I don’t know, honestly, how long it will take for his head to get rid of that poison, but I’m sure he will come to his senses, God willing.”

She said she had spoken to her brother the day before the attack. “He was in a good mood. It was a usual, good conversation,” she said.

Separately she told Reuters she and her family had been shocked to see Saipov sporting a long beard after his 2013 marriage.

Amid unconfirmed reports that the Uzbek authorities are questioning her family, she added that she did not know where her father and uncle were. – Guardian/Reuters/AP