National Security

ISIS Has Been Rebuilding in Syria, Says U.S. Department of Defense

A new threat of 'insurgent activity' has become a reality, says the author of this opinion piece, citing a recent Pentagon report

A recent Pentagon report has confirmed what many in U.S. defense have long feared: ISIS has been rebuilding in Syria.

The report was written by Department of Defense (DOD) counsel Glenn Fine, the lead inspector general for Operation Inherent Resolve.

That’s the official name for the U.S.-led operation against ISIS, and covers the period from April 1, 2019 to June 30, 2019.

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Here’s a quick recap.

Late in 2018, President Donald Trump announced he was ready to withdraw troops from Syria after a long and successful campaign of taking back territory from ISIS.

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The move was decried by national security experts, as well as loyalists from Trump’s own party, as premature. The decision was almost certainly the last straw for then-Defense Secretary James Mattis, who resigned days after the announcement on Syria.

Now, the Defense Department has reported the results.

The first line of the 116-page document gets right to it: “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 this quarter.”

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The fact that ISIS has been rebuilding in Syria is due in no small part to U.S. absence. As Fine wrote in a message accompanying the report, “The reduction of U.S. 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.”

While the major battles against ISIS may have been fought and won before Trump’s pullout decision, the challenge of stabilizing these former ISIS territories was still in its early stages at the end of 2018. As the report iterated, after taking territory back from ISIS, local forces still need support to help build credibility with local populations and  collect on-the-ground intelligence to get ahead of any insurgent activity.

Now, that threat of “insurgent activity” has become a reality.

“We also know there is a fairly vibrant insurgency that has reverted to guerrilla tactics, and so there is still a threat.”

As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford told reporters last month, “We can all certainly be proud of the progress that has taken place since 2015 … in terms of clearing ISIS from Mosul, from Raqqa, from Fallujah and so forth … But we also know there is still a fairly vibrant insurgency that has reverted to guerrilla tactics, and so there is still a threat.”

For the Trump administration to make a U-turn on its Syria policy would not look good politically.

But given the facts on the ground, it may be the only choice to prevent a complete comeback of ISIS.

Samuel Siskind studied intelligence research at the American Military University in West Virginia. He served as a squad commander in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Corp of Combat Engineers, in the corps’ ground battalions, and later in its Intelligence Wing at regional and divisional stations. For the past five years, he’s worked as a consultant and researcher on physical and information security issues for private and governmental institutions, in the U.S., Africa, India, and Israel. He currently lives in Jerusalem. This piece originally appeared in OpsLens and is used by permission.

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