ISIS is “re-surging” in Syria less than five months after President Donald Trump declared the terror group’s caliphate there had been 100% defeated, according to a new Pentagon inspector general’s report on the fight against ISIS.
“Despite losing its territorial ‘caliphate,’ the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was re-surging in Syria,” the report, which was published on Tuesday, warned.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted his administration’s role in driving the terror group from areas under its territorial control, telling a Cabinet meeting last month, “We did a great job with the caliphate. We have 100% of the caliphate, and we’re rapidly pulling out of Syria.” But the new report said the partial withdrawal of some US troops from Syria has already impacted the fight against the remnants of ISIS, making it harder to advise local allies on the ground and depriving the US of the ability to monitor areas that are described as potential recruiting zones that would allow the group to replenish its ranks.
Asked about the report’s findings on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the “administration is incredibly mindful of the success we’ve had versus ISIS,” while acknowledging that he had not read the report.
“I’m sure it’s the case that there’s pockets where they’ve become a little stronger. I can assure you there are places where it’s become weaker as well,” Pompeo said.
The report, from the lead inspector general for Operation Inherent Resolve, the official name for the US-led operation fighting ISIS, covers the period April 1 to June 30, 2019.
“The reduction of US forces has decreased the support available for Syrian partner forces at a time when their forces need more training and equipping to respond to the ISIS resurgence,” Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general, wrote in a message accompanying the report.
The former US Special Presidential Envoy for the ISIS fight, Brett McGurk, tweeted the report’s findings on Wednesday, saying it “concludes that Trump’s ordered withdrawal of forces came at the worst possible time and has decreased resources needed to complete the mission.”
“This report speaks for itself and should be taken seriously,” McGurk, who resigned from the administration in December shortly after Trump announced his plans to withdraw from Syria, later added.
The report warns that because of the reduction in personnel, the US and its local allies were unable to closely monitor the al-Hol internally displaced persons camp, a situation that has allowed “ISIS ideology to spread ‘uncontested’ in the camp,” potentially allowing ISIS to replenish its ranks among the tens of thousands of inhabitants.
Trump says US will ‘be out of there pretty soon’
At the height of the campaign in Syria the US had just shy of 3,000 troops helping to advise the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as they drove ISIS from towns all across northeast Syria. The number of US troops has decreased substantially, however Pentagon officials have not provided official statistics on how many remain in the country.
Trump has said that a small residual US force will remain in Syria for an indefinite period of time to help ensure ISIS remains defeated.
“We’ll be out of there pretty soon. And let them handle their own problems. Syria can handle their own problems – along with Iran, along with Russia, along with Iraq, along with Turkey. We’re 7,000 miles away,” Trump said last month.
Pentagon officials have expressed concerns in recent days that a potential Turkish military incursion targeting America’s Kurdish allies in northeast Syria could undermine the fight against ISIS.
Such an operation has been repeatedly proposed by senior officials in Turkey and the US has consistently called such a move “unacceptable,” expressing concerns that American personnel could be caught in the crossfire and that ISIS detainees could escape in the chaos.
ISIS also still presents a challenge in Iraq, where last month the US-led military coalition carried out 33 air or artillery strikes targeting ISIS fighters, buildings, tunnels, weapons caches and vehicles.