President Trump still at odds with former US military, intel officials over SyriaFebruary 22, 2019
As the United States prepares a full drawdown of forces in Syria, former defense and intelligence officials are concerned with the region’s stability and a repeat of what happened when ISIS emerged after the United States left Iraq in 2011.
President Trump vowed a change in policy in his 2019 State of the Union Speech. As he specifically promised a reduction of troop presence and focus on counterterrorism, he stated: “Great nations do not fight endless wars.”
“It’s a long-standing campaign talking point for him, but I think the real problem was the fact that it was not done through any sort of process,” said Joseph Collins, former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for stability operations.
Trump predicted all ISIS-held territory in Syria would be regained by the second week of February, but many U.S. military and intelligence officials still consider the extremist group a threat. ISIS as a terrorist group, and as an ideology is very much alive, according to Brian Katz, a former Defense Department official.
“They’re just not physically holding and defending the area anymore. They’re in the rural areas in Iraq and Syria,” Katz said. “They’ve probably started re-infiltrating some of the areas that were cleared by the counter-ISIS forces, rebuilding those clandestine networks to be able to launch attacks if there is the more significant drawdown of U.S. troops if there is a collapse of our local partner forces again.”
“You have to continually pursue these groups until there’s almost nothing left. And we did it one time before,” said Collins. “We did the best job that anyone has ever done in history and it still came back to bite us.”
Looking back at al-Qaeda extremists who became ISIS fighters after Obama’s withdrawal, Collins said the United States should have learned its lesson.
“Al-Qaeda in Iraq was the most thoroughly destroyed terrorist group in history,” he said. “When U.S. forces and our special operators were done, there were only a few hundred of these stragglers who were left.”
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