A new Pentagon report states that the Isis terrorist group has taken advantage of the withdrawal of US troops and the Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria to rebuild and that its ability to plan terrorist attacks against the West has been boosted. The report by the Pentagon’s Inspector General was published on Tuesday November 19th.
According to Reuters, the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report reveals that Isis has “exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of US troops to reconstitute capabilities and resources within Syria and its ability to plan attacks abroad.”
The report paints a gloomy picture of the impact of President Trump’s decision to withdraw from northeastern Syria and Turkey's attack on America's Kurdish allies. According to the report, training for the Kurds temporarily stopped, despite the ongoing Isis threat. Neither Turkey nor its proxy forces are likely to fight the terrorist group despite its public vows to do so. The report also says that the chaos in the area will make it difficult to help those in dire need.
CNN said that Kurdish and US officials expect the state of unrest in northeastern Syria to continue, as the ceasefire negotiated by Vice President Mike Pence is not actually being implemented.
In a joint manifesto released on November 14th, ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat Isis, an international group of more than 80 countries, said that Isis’s enduring defeat is not guaranteed, stating that their successes came as a result of tremendous sacrifice and that the coalition must maintain unity of purpose and cohesiveness in Syria and Iraq.
Prior to Turkey's offensive, US and coalition forces had been training and equipping the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is a mix of Kurdish and Arab troops, to hold territories and conduct counterterrorism operations in northeastern Syria.
According to the Pentagon report, US forces were training commando teams and prison guards in counter-improvised explosive device (IED) techniques and other specialist skills the SDF lack. The US-led coalition revealed that the Kurdish-led forces still need additional equipment and extra training and personnel to be able to carry out counterinsurgency operations against Isis.
Pentagon spokesperson Commander Sean Robertson told CNN that SDF training has resumed. "Isis fighters are still operating in the region and unless pressure is maintained, a re-emergence of the group and its capabilities remains a very real possibility. We are committed to keep that from happening,” Robertson said.
The report stated that while training had been suspended, the US was supplying Arab elements of SDF with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, shotguns, stipends, ammunition, vehicles, and medical supplies.
After initially ordering a US withdrawal from Syria, Trump agreed to redeploy US troops elsewhere in the country, based on a Pentagon plan, near Deir El-Zour, in order to secure Syrian oil fields and block Isis access to them.
While senior US officials have pointed out that the death of Isis leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi proves the US is putting pressure on the terrorist group despite the withdrawal and Turkey's offensive, the DIA believes his death will not really affect Isis's ability to regroup.
The report said the intelligence agency expects that Isis is "willing to accept and deal with Al-Baghdadi's death, and probably will “maintain continuity of operations, global cohesion, and at least its current trajectory”.
Since the beginning of the October Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria, the Turkish-backed militias which joined the offensive have not conducted any counterterrorism operations against Isis. The DIA said that some of these militias had previously helped smuggle Isis fighters across territory where they have control and that they probably maintain relations with Isis at a low level as they share a similar, strict interpretation of Sharia law.
Some had hoped that the ceasefire would allow the SDF to refocus on fighting Isis. However, Syrian Kurds and US officials say that despite the ceasefire, Turkish-backed groups have continued their attacks. “That turmoil will make it difficult to fulfil people’s urgent humanitarian needs," the report said, quoting the State Department.
The UN estimates that more than 99,000 people are still displaced in northeastern Syria due to Turkey's offensive. Yet Trump insisted that the ceasefire was working, saying during a news conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House, “I know that the ceasefire, while complicated, is moving forward and moving forward at a very rapid clip."
The Pentagon declined to comment on the status of the ceasefire, referring queries to the State Department, which did not immediately respond. A US official told CNN that "we are still engaged with both the Turkish government and the SDF to obtain greater clarity on the current situation on the ground."
The SDF commander has also accused Turkish-backed militias of continuing their attacks. General Mazloum Abdi tweeted on Sunday that militias had targeted an area populated by Christians "on the International Day for Tolerance. This threatens the remaining Christian genocide-survivors near Tal Tamr."
Senior US officials have previously said the Turkish-backed militias have been linked to possible war crimes as they pursued Ankara's military objectives in northeastern Syria, with one senior State Department official calling them "very, very dangerous and in some cases extremist."