The withdrawal of American troops from Syria has set the stage for a return of Islamic State, claims a new Pentagon report. The report aligns the Pentagon with war-hungry lawmakers who opposed the withdrawal from the outset.
In a report released on Tuesday, the Defense Department’s Inspector General warns that without a US presence in northeastern Syria, the terror group will “likely be able to rebuild and carry out more sophisticated operations.”
The withdrawal from Syria – where the US has no legal right to be in the first place – is only a partial one, with some troops and assets remaining behind to deny Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and the Syrian government access to vital oil. In the eyes of the Pentagon, however, it’s a bridge too far.
Citing information from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the report states that IS has “activated sleeper cells” to attack the Kurdish militias now left opposing them, and with the Kurds also fending off a Turkish incursion, has the “time and space” to plan attacks in the West.
IS, it says, will “probably…build clandestine networks” and attempt to free its prisoners held in Kurdish prisons.
A damning indictment of Trump’s withdrawal plan, but one lacking in specifics. For one thing, IS’ territorial gains since 2014 have been completely rolled back, first by the US air campaign, and then by Russian intervention from 2015 onwards. Secondly, the oil that IS depended on to fund its caliphate is now in American hands, with several hundred mechanized troops staying behind to protect oil fields in the country’s northeast.
The Pentagon is not alone in criticizing Trump’s pullout. A bipartisan chorus of lawmakers accused the president of “abandoning” America’s Kurdish allies when US forces withdrew from northeastern Syria, and hawkish Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) called the withdrawal “the biggest mistake” of Trump’s presidency. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stated last month that the resurgence of IS is “absolutely a given” without American forces in Syria to prevent it.
The resurgence of IS is dependent on more than just the American presence. Syria’s government and its Russian allies are still poised to take on the terror group, as are Kurdish militias. The consternation over Trump’s withdrawal therefore seems more like worry among military officials that the US won’t be around to oversee the fight for itself.
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