White House press secretary Josh Earnest declined to say multiple times Friday whether the United States is winning against the Islamic State in a military effort that's been going on for over a year.
He would only say the United States is making progress.
“There is no denying we’ve made a lot of important progress against ISIL over the last year or so,” Earnest told reporters.
He rattled off several statistics, noting that the Islamic State has the “freedom to operate” in 30 percent less of the territory it took over last year.
Asked later if that meant the Sunni militant group was still operating in 70 percent of the territory it controlled a year ago, Earnest joked, “I’m not a mathematician, but that sounds correct.”
He said he did not know precisely how much new territory the Islamic State has conquered.
“The president has said several times now there will be periods of progress and periods of setback. That’s part of any military operation like this,” Earnest said.
Earnest also said that key leaders of the Islamic State have been killed, while all but 60 miles of the 600-mile Syria-Turkey border has been sealed off.
Another reporter later pointed out that the U.S. government used statistics during the Vietnam War to give the image of progress.
“There is no denying we’ve made important progress,” Earnest responded. “The statistics that I’ve laid out before substantiate the important progress. At the same time we’ve sustained setbacks, consistent with the president’s admonition at the very beginning of this that there would be periods of progress and periods of setback. We’ve sure sustained both. What has not changed however is the president’s determination to continue to work and lead this coalition to carry out a strategy that would degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.”
“So, we are making progress, but you don’t feel comfortable saying we’re winning?” Fox News reporter James Rosen followed.
Earnest responded, “Well, that’s an assessment the Department of Defense can share with you. There is an understandable tendency to want to do a little play-by-play of the military conflict. I think what is clear is that important progress has been made. There is a tremendous amount of work that remains to be done.