After a week of confounding in Washington, experts are weighing in on the President’s declaration of victory over ISIS in Syria. While President Trump Tweets confidently about what he sees as the end of the Islamic State in the country, others warn that a U.S. withdrawal will open up a power vacuum in the country and lead to the creation of a new, more powerful ISIS.
“ISIS is far from defeated, it’s just waiting for the right moment to regenerate, and engage in more opportunistic attacks not just in Syria but worldwide,” Lina Khatib, head of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House, a foreign policy think tank in London, told Vice.
This view seems to be shared by many at the Pentagon. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis hand delivered his resignation to President Trump. And now Brett McGurk, the presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, has announced he will leave his post at the end of the month.
“I ultimately concluded that I could not carry out these new instructions and maintain my integrity,” McGurk wrote.
The withdrawal from Syria leaves the U.S. partners in the region with little support. The Kurdish fighters have been instrumental in breaking the ISIS strangle hold on the region.
A report by the U.S. Lead Inspector General estimated around 14,000 ISIS fighters are still active in Syria. That is an estimate, but the number indicates that ISIS is not, as the president suggests, defeated.
“This is going to be an ISIS propaganda video in next few weeks, basically with them declaring victory,” said Colin P. Clarke, senior research fellow at the New York-based Soufan Center. “It’s a huge, huge morale boost for ISIS and its supporters.”
“We are inevitably creating the conditions for ISIS 2.0,” said Michael Carpenter, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and foreign policy advisor to Vice President Joe Biden.
“If you don’t create the conditions for stability, and some modicum of orderly transfer following the departure of U.S. troops,” Carpenter added, “we’re just setting ourselves up for the inevitable reemergence of Sunni forces in eastern Syria.”
The U.S. pull out leaves Syrian Dictator Bashar Assad fighting the rebels. There are still other outside influences. Russia, Iran, Israel, and Turkey are all active in the fight.
“Until this week,” VICE writes, “the U.S. mission in Syria was also focused on preventing Iran and Russia from cementing their influence in the country. So, too, was keeping an increasingly agitated Turkey from attacking U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria’s eastern regions.”
Now those allegiances are called into question.
“Other non-state actors around the world with whom we work to combat terrorism every day are paying close attention and they’ll now wonder if they can trust U.S. commitments,” said William Wechsler, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Combating Terrorism.
“This is the worst message that could possibly be sent to our partners,” he said.