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Trump pulled critical US personnel out of Syria and Iraq. Now ISIS is making a bloody comeback
Nearly six months after President Donald Trump declared ISIS defeated, the terror organization is making a comeback in both Iraq and Syria, according to a new report from the Pentagon inspector general's office — and that's largely thanks to the president's decision to prematurely pull the rug out from under local security forces at a critical time.
The quarterly OIG report on the U.S.-led counter-ISIS campaign Operation Inherent Resolve, which covers three months from April to June following Trump's late-February victory lap, states that the terror group has "continued its transition from a territory-holding force to an insurgency" in Syria and solidifying its insurgent capabilities while rebuilding its command and control capabilities in Iraq.
U.S. Central Command reported that while ISIS militants in both Iraq and Syria " did not carry out large-scale conventional attacks or attempt to take and hold territory for more than brief periods," militants engaged in "targeted assassinations, ambushes, suicide bombings, and the burning of crops" with a force of between 14,000 and 18,000 "members" split between the two countries, per the report.
It's the relative weakness of regional partner forces that has allowed ISIS to rise from the ashes its former territorial caliphate: According to the OIG, both Iraqi security forces and U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) "were unable to sustain long-term operations against ISIS militants," OIR officials told the investigators: "In Iraq, the ISF often lacks the ability to maintain hold forces in territory cleared of ISIS militants, while in Syria, the SDF was 'initially limited' in personnel, equipment, and intelligence to confront ISIS's resurgent cells."
And who's responsible for the shortfalls in training and equipment? Simple, apparently: "The reduction of U.S. forces in Syria decreased the support available for Syrian partner forces at a time when they need more training and equipping to respond to the ISIS resurgence." From the OIG report:
As it drew down forces, CJTF-OIR stated that the reduction in personnel, equipment, and a change of mission to counterinsurgency required the Special Operations Joint Task ForceOIR, a component of CJTF-OIR, to perform more partnered training, equipping, and reinforcing of the SDF to enable the SDF to conduct counterinsurgency operations. CJTF-OIR said that the partial drawdown had occurred at a time when these fighters need additional training and equipping to build trust with local communities and to develop the human-based intelligence necessary to confront ISIS resurgent cells and insurgent capabilities in Syria.
According to CJTF-OIR, the drawdown of U.S. forces in Syria also reduced the ability of CJTF-OIR to maintain "visibility" at the al Hol IDP camp, forcing it to rely on third-party accounts of the humanitarian and security situation there. CJTF-OIR said that it lacks the resources to monitor the camp directly, and that the SDF was only capable of providing "minimal security"—a deficiency that CJTF-OIR said has created conditions that allow ISIS ideology to spread "uncontested" in the camp.
If this sounds familiar, it should: President Barack Obama's withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011 (in
accordance with the 2008 U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement that President George W. Bush signed into law and not, it's worth noting, Obama's wishes) was premature given the state of Iraqi security forces., allowing ISIS to carve a bloody swatch across the northern part of the country and establish a territorial candidate.
Indeed, even prior to Trump's surprise withdrawal announcement in December 2018, ISIS forces were "exploiting the chaotic and unresolved security situation" in Iraq to reconstitute itself, according to an analysis by in Jane's Intelligence Review, regaining a territorial foothold in the country's northern Qara Chokh mountains despite the loss of its primary stronghold in Mosul the previous year.
Trump's surprise withdrawal announcement
spurred the resignations of both then-Defense Secretary James Mattis, whose counsel on Syria's stability Trump reportedly ignored, and Brett McGurk, the Trump administration's top envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS who had previously described a premature withdrawal as "reckless" until the U.S. "[has] the pieces in place to ensure that that defeat is enduring."
It's worth noting that OIG report indicates Iran played a substantial role hindering reconstruction in Iraq. Indeed, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo's decision to order the departure of non-emergency personnel from U.S. facilities across the country "reduced U.S. Mission Iraq's portfolio to four objectives: defeating ISIS, countering malign Iranian influence in Iraq, supporting religious and ethnic minorities, and maintaining a viable platform for diplomatic operations."
"The departure of Embassy personnel this quarter eroded the ability of Embassy Baghdad and Consulate Erbil to manage humanitarian assistance and stabilization efforts in Iraq," the report says, noting that the number of U.S. direct hires dropped from 563 to 312 and included the loss of 21 out of 26 USAID personnel. "USAID reported that the departures have weakened oversight and complicated the remote management of humanitarian programs by limiting engagement with key stakeholders, such as humanitarian leadership in country, and a large portfolio of UN and NGO partners.
But regardless of outside meddling from Iran, the OIG report offers a stark warning to any future declarations of "victory" over ISIS. The United States has certainly conducted nation-building with relative success since World War II, from Germany and Japan to Bosnia and Kosovo. But in Syria an Iraq (again), as with Afghanistan, the U.S. simply aren't sticking around long enough to give partner forces what they need — and, in making a hasty exit, U.S. officials are planting the seeds of their future return.
Read the full OIG report below:
‘I made promises to the people that I lost’— How the Iraq war forged a Navy SEAL’s path to Harvard Medical School and NASA
Navy Lt. Jonny Kim went viral last week when NASA announced that he and 10 other candidates (including six other service members) became the newest members of the agency's hallowed astronaut corps. A decorated Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kim in particular seems to have a penchant for achieving people's childhood dreams.
However, Kim shared with Task & Purpose that his motivation for living life the way he has stems not so much from starry-eyed ambition, but from the pain and loss he suffered both on the battlefields of Iraq and from childhood instability while growing up in Los Angeles. Kim tells his story in the following Q&A, which was lightly edited for length and clarity:
You can almost smell the gunpowder in the scene captured by a Marine photographer over the weekend, showing a Marine grunt firing a shotgun during non-lethal weapons training.
A Marine grunt stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina is being considered for an award after he saved the lives of three people earlier this month from a fiery car crash.
Cpl. Scott McDonell, an infantry assaultman with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, was driving down Market Street in Wilmington in the early morning hours of Jan. 11 when he saw a car on fire after it had crashed into a tree. Inside were three victims aged 17, 20, and 20.
"It was a pretty mangled wreck," McDonell told ABC 15. "The passenger was hanging out of the window."
New Vietnam War movie 'The Last Full Measure' takes some well-deserved shots at the military’s award process
Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.
With ISIS trying to reorganize itself into an insurgency, most attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq are being carried out by Shiite militias, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.
"In the time that I have been in Iraq, we've taken a couple of casualties from ISIS fighting on the ground, but most of the attacks have come from those Shia militia groups, who are launching rockets at our bases and frankly just trying to kill someone to make a point," Grynkewich said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.