- 14,000 to 18,000 ISIS fighters continue to operate in Iraq and Syria.
- Arab and Kurdish liberation force lacks the wherewithal to continue detaining 10,000 captured ISIS fighters.
- More important, they can provide little more than perimeter security for sprawling camps filled with tens of thousands of displaced Syrian families.
The collapse of peace talks aimed at ending American military involvement in Afghanistan has, for the moment at least, thwarted President Donald Trump’s isolationist urge to declare victory while pulling out U.S. troops based on vague Taliban assurances.
Skeptics, like recently fired national security adviser John Bolton, often point to the 1973 Paris peace agreement as an example of how a rush-to-the-exit ended with the aggressors — North Vietnam, in that case — winning everything in the end.
But there’s a more troubling, and recent, case in point — Trump’s decision to expedite troop drawdowns in Syria, a move Bolton also opposed.
Trump made a theatrical display last December of tweeting a video of himself declaring victory in the U.S.-led coalition war against the Islamic State caliphate in Syria, along with his decision to “bring our great young people home.”
Never mind the reality that the American military footprint of 2,000 troops in Syria was relatively small, and that the Pentagon had perfected the art of working with indigenous forces to minimize risk to U.S. ground troops while ensuring battle success.
And never mind that Trump’s desire to pull the plug in Syria cost him a valuable Cabinet member in Defense Secretary James Mattis, who quit in disagreement with the decision.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump travel to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11, 2018. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
OPPOSING VIEW: President’s timing is right on ISIS. Bring American troops home.
Trump later reversed himself to a degree. The troop commitment to Syria was cut by about half. He thereafter used the victory as a favorite talking point, boasting of having obliterated, decimated or pulverized the terror group also known as ISIS.
“The ISIS territorial caliphate has been 100% and just absolutely destroyed,” Trump said in July.
Nonetheless, ISIS persists.
As many as 14,000 to 18,000 ISIS fighters continue to operate in Iraq and Syria, using gangster tactics of assassinations, ambushes, suicide bombings and crop burning to sow discord and extort money. Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains at large. A recent U.S. inspector general report said ISIS in Syria is “resurging.” And a United Nations report in July said the organization is working to reestablish guerrilla networks in Iraq and Syria.
Merely by Trump cutting the relatively small force of U.S. troops in Syria to demonstrate his “America First” bona fides, the U.S.-led coalition’s on-the-ground ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces, has been denied appropriate training, equipment and assistance in establishing the kind of human-based intelligence necessary to sustain hard-won victories and check ISIS reemergence, the IG report says.
In addition, the report says the Arab and Kurdish liberation force lacks the wherewithal to continue detaining 10,000 captured ISIS fighters. More important, they can provide little more than perimeter security for sprawling camps filled with tens of thousands of displaced Syrian families. These camps are becoming insurgency breeding grounds, where Islamic State infiltrators are working to sow lawlessness and recruit followers.
Precipitous withdrawal — whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or Vietnam — too often has been the perfect formula for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Whomever Trump picks as his next national security adviser should understand this reality.
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