Earlier this month, the Defense Department’s inspector general warned Congress of the resurgence of ISIS in Syria. The IG report indicates that ISIS has continued in its transition from a territory holding force to a full-blown insurgency in Syria. Although the Islamic State lost nearly 95 percent of its territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014, the terror group still retains 18,000 active fighters responsible for launching a multitude of attacks in the past few months.
In response to questions pertaining to the report, Secretary of State Pompeo stated that the Trump administration is extremely mindful of the “challenge that (ISIS) continues to present to the world.”
Following the successful recapture of ISIS-held territory in late 2018, President Trump announced the slow withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. Since then, around 2,000 troops have returned home. Turkish President, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, has subsequently amassed soldiers along the Syrian-Turkish border, threatening to attack SDF soldiers. Ankara treats the SDF main force, the YPG, as an affiliate of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a group they have previously designated a terrorist organization. However, the U.S. does not conflate the two and has supported the YPG and their kinetic contributions to the fight against ISIS.
Last week, U.S. military officials held a series of meetings in Ankara in an attempt to hinder Turkey’s plans to carry out attacks against the Kurds in Northern Syria. The Trump administration had previously warned that these renewed attacks would derail the fight against ISIS. If Turkey continues to threaten the northern border, the limited SDF forces remaining will be forced to divert their full attention from resurging ISIS militants.
Mazlum Abdi, Syrian-Kurdish military leader, indicated that ISIS is directly benefitting from “Turkish threats by increasing its attacks” on areas which have previously been liberated by the U.S. and the YPG (People’s Protection Units) jointly.
Turkey’s role in enabling the ISIS resurgence in Syria is not a new phenomenon.The Turkish Intelligence Service, MIT, has aided foreign fighters across the globe to cross its territory into Syrian battlefields since the onslaught of the civil war in 2011. In 2013 alone, nearly 30,000 jihad fighters crossed over Turkish soil, forming the “jihadi highway,” or the well-established and publicized route militants would take to enter Syria. Former Vice President Joe Biden stated that U.S. allies (including Turkey) were so tenacious to remove the Assad regime from power that they provided money and guns to any person who volunteered to fight.
Foreign fighters’ ability to access Syria’s borders was not just a product of Turkey’s oversight or negligence, but of Erdogan’s gross malfeasance and support for the Jihad ideology. Mainstream media outlets have used President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops from the ground as the sole arbiter of this recent resurgence. However, Erdogan’s actions have overtly undermined U.S. policy goals in the region, fueling the Islamic State since its origin.