The Latest: General says militant group’s hold near collapse

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The Latest on President Donald Trump and Syria (all times local):

9:50 a.m.

The top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East says the Islamic State group’s territorial hold in Syria and Iraq is on the verge of collapse.

Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of Central Command, made the assertion in a written statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was testifying Tuesday before the committee on the situation throughout his area of responsibility.

Votel praises efforts by Iraq’s security forces and a U.S.-backed coalition of Syrian fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Force. He credits their combined work against the Islamic State group and notes U.S. forces are going to withdraw from Syria.

He says battlefield gains in Iraq and Syria must be secured by continued U.S. and international efforts to prevent a return to conditions that allowed the Islamic State group to arise.

President Donald Trump is expected to declare near-total triumph over the Islamic State group in Syria in his State of the Union address.

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12:35 a.m.

President Donald Trump is expected to declare near-total triumph over the Islamic State group in Syria in his State of the Union address, but U.S. defense officials are increasingly fearful that the group is simply biding its time until the Americans leave the battlefield as planned.

The Islamic State group has lost territory since Trump’s surprise announcement in December that he was pulling U.S. forces out, but military officials warn that the fighters could regroup within six months to a year after the Americans leave.

A Defense Department watchdog report released Monday says the Islamic State group “remains a potent force of battle-hardened and well-disciplined fighters that ‘could likely resurge in Syria’ absent continued counterterrorism pressure.”

In this Jan. 31, 2019, photo, President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Trump is expected to declare near-total triumph over the Islamic State group in Syria in his State of the Union address, but U.S. defense officials are increasingly fearful that the militants are simply biding their time until the Americans leave the battlefield as planned. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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