WASHINGTON: The Islamic State group took advantage of both the US withdrawal from northeastern Syria and the Turkish incursion to regroup and could prepare new attacks on the West, a report from the Pentagon said Tuesday.
President Donald Trump said on Oct 6 around 1,000 US troops were leaving northeast Syria, where they had kept an uneasy peace between neighbouring Turkey and Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Trump’s move allowed an incursion by Turkey aimed at destroying Kurdish guerrillas, who had led the fight against the Islamic State group and run jails for captured extremists in their effectively autonomous area in northern Syria.
Trump, who was strongly criticised even by allies in his own camp, has changed course several times, eventually announcing that a residual force would remain in Syria to protect oil fields.
“IS exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of US troops to reconstitute capabilities and resources within Syria and strengthen its ability to plan attacks abroad,” the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General said in a report.
The office, which is an independent investigative arm, added that IS “will likely have the ‘time and space’ to target the West and provide support to its 19 global branches and networks”, the report said, citing information provided by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
In the long run, it “will probably seek to regain control of some Syrian population centers and expand its global footprint”, the inspector general added, citing the DIA.
Meanwhile, the death of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed during a raid conducted by US special operations forces in Syria on Oct 26 “would likely have little effect on ISIS’s ability to reconstitute”, the DIA said, according to the report.
Already IS has “has activated sleeper cells to increase attacks” against the Kurdish-led fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, whom the United States relied upon in the fight against IS.
In 2014 fighters from the newly formed IS group swept through much of the Sunni heartland in Iraq and Syria to declare a “caliphate”.
The report states that US forces in Syria continue to arm SDF fighters but have stopped training them. By the end of the third quarter, the SDF had 100,000 fighters, according to the document.