The Department of Defense released an alarming report from Pentagon inspector general this summer detailing that President Trump’s controversial decision to pull troops out of Syria actually aided the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in strengthening and regrouping.
The withdrawal of American forces has left ISIS forces with the opening to recruit new members without any interference from U.S. forces.
The report reads:
“According to [joint task force officials], the drawdown of U.S. forces in Syria also reduced the ability of [the U.S.-backed mission] to maintain ‘visibility’ at the al Hol IDP camp, forcing it to rely on third-party accounts of the humanitarian and security situation there.”
Despite Trump’s insistence that ISIS has been defeated, the report said that “ISIS continued its transition from a territory-holding force to an insurgency in Syria, and it intensified its insurgency in Iraq.”
Experts and officials warned time and again about this very situation- that a quick withdrawal by the US would set the stage for an ISIS regrouping into an insurgency.
The report also said the troop drawdown has undoubtedly led to further instability in the reagion. The withdrawal prompted the unexpected resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and left the US’s Syrian partners without the necessary training or reinforcement they would need to deal with a stronger ISIS presence. Same situation in Iraq- Iraq security forces just didn’t have the setup to confront or battle ISIS for the long haul.
ISIS is believed to have around 14,000 to 18,000 active combatants. These combatants are carrying out assassinations, suicide bombings, crop and property burnings, and constant ambushes in both Syria and Iraq, posing huge violent threats to civilians in those countries.
ISIS in those countries has also found ways to generate income- extortion, kidnapping, skimming money from rebuilding contracts, you name it. This type of underhanded income generation makes it extremely difficult to track.
According to Brett McGurk, who served under Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump as special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, says that Trump’s decision to refocus attention on Iran hindered its ability to really counter and combat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, leaving it wide open for growth.
McGurk felt similarly to Mattis, and used that same tactic to express his feelings, resigning his post after Trump announced the withdrawal. He warned that Trump’s handling of this would give ISIS “new life” and would “precipitate chaos and an environment for extremists to thrive.”
One of Trump’s greatest campaign promises was the withdrawal of US forces from Middle Eastern conflicts, all designed around his “America First” policy but what he failed to realize is that decisions like this one have far reaching consequences. It destabilized Iraq and Syria and has the potential to do the same to Afghanistan, crucial because the US is currently in negotiations with the Taliban to withdraw from there.
In Afghanistan, there is an ISIS branch called ISIS K. This new threat is growing rapidly and recruiting militant volunteers ready to wage a holy war. Middle East expert Nicholas Heras from the Center for a New American Security said of the threat, “ISIS K will likely succeed.”