U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement last week that U.S. special forces would soon pull out of Syria comes as Islamic State (ISIS) has re-grouped and re-emerged in Syria and Iraq, reports say.
“We’re knocking the hell out of ISIS. We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon,” Trump said. “We’ve got to get back to our country where we belong, where we want to be.”
Trump’s comments “raised eyebrows in CENTCOM the U.S. central command in the Middle East and contradicted the recently announced new U.S. policy toward Syria which focused on clearing out the last Islamic State hubs and blocking Iranian imperialistic moves in the war-torn country,” analyst Yochanan Visser wrote for Arutz Sheva on April 1.
If Trump does withdraw U.S. troops from Syria at this stage, “he risks repeating Obama’s 2011 blunder when he pulled the U.S. army out of Iraq,” Visser wrote.
Last week, ISIS launched a large-scale attack on the Syrian army, killing 25 soldiers and seizing a large oil field in eastern Syria.
At about the same time, ISIS succeeded in seizing a suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus, killing 36 soldiers of Assad’s army, Reuters reported.
Along the Israeli border on the Golan Heights, Islamic State affiliate Jaish Khaled Ibn al-Walid has recently expanded the territory under its control and ISIS fighters who fled Iraq and territories in Syria have joined the brigade in the Yarmouk Basin.
Iraqi officials told The Globe and Mail that between 150 and 200 members of the security forces in the country lost their lives as a result of ISIS attacks in recent months.
ISIS remains a dangerous foe in Iraq as it “is increasingly targeting energy infrastructure following a lull since October 2017,” IHS Markit reported.
On March 22, ISIS jihadists attacked the Alas oil field in the Salah al-Din Province and an oil pipeline in northern Iraq, the report said.
At about the same time, ISIS terrorists killed five members of the Iraqi security forces north of Mosul in the Nineveh Province and killed and wounded ten Hashd al-Shaabi fighters near Tuz Khurmatu, south of the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq.
“In 2011, as soon as the U.S. military left Iraq, ISIS took advantage of the growing chaos in the country and began to bolster its ranks,” Visser noted. “The same can happen now in both Syria and Iraq, Trump’s own military commanders warn.”
One of those commanders told NBC last week that “We send memos. We tell them (the White House) what is going on. I’m not sure they’re listening, or if they even know what we’re doing out here. We’re on the two-yard line. We could literally fall into the end zone. We’re that close to total victory, to wiping out the ISIS caliphate in Syria. We’re that close and now it’s coming apart.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned against pulling U.S. troops out of Syria.
“It’d be the single worst decision the president could make,” Graham told Fox News on April 1.
“We got [IS] on the ropes. You want to let them off the ropes, remove American soldiers. This is a disaster in the making…There are over 3,000 [ISIS] fighters still roaming around Syria. If we withdrew our troops anytime soon, [ISIS] would come back, the war between Turkey and the Kurds would get out of hand, and you’d be giving Damascus to the Iranians without an American presence.”
The U.S. has about 2,000 troops in Syria.
Visser noted that Trump’s announcement to withdraw from Syria may have been intended “to encourage other Western countries to step up their involvement in Syria.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, after meeting with a Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) delegation in Paris, pledged to send additional French forces to SDF-held territory in Syria. Macron also offered to mediate between Turkey and the Kurdish YPG which leads the U.S. coalition-backed SDF, but which Turkey considers a terrorist organization.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded furiously.
“Who are you to mediate between Turkey and a terror group?” Erdogan fumed during a meeting of his AKP party in Ankara while he accused Macron of committing an “expression of hostility” against Turkey.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Hassan Rohani, and Erdogan were set to meet on April 4 in Ankara in a summit of the three countries sponsoring a series of Syrian peace talks.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu held a telephone conversation on March 30 to discuss the Putin-Erdogan meeting, the ministry said in a statement. “The ministers discussed a number of pressing bilateral issues in light of the upcoming Russian-Turkish summit,” the statement said.