Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria following President Donald Trump’s order for U.S. forces to pull back aided the Islamic State group and damaged ties with Kurdish-led militias, according to a new assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The DIA assessment, part of a quarterly report disclosed Tuesday by the Pentagon’s inspector general, concluded that Islamic State “exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of U.S. troops to reconstitute capabilities and resources within Syria and strengthen its ability to plan attacks abroad,” according to a summary.
The report’s preparation was delayed beyond its scheduled Sept. 30 deadline, according to Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine, due to the “significant developments” last month that resulted in the drawdown of U.S. troops. Since then, Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said about 500 to 600 of 1,000 American forces will remain in Syria, some at a base in the south of the country and others in northern oil fields.
Trump’s abrupt decision to begin withdrawing forces, following an early October phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, drew bipartisan criticism for abandoning Kurdish allies the U.S. has counted on to fight Islamic State and for giving an implicit approval of Turkey’s offensive into the region. Turkey views the Kurdish-led forces in Syria as terrorists.
The DIA report added that Islamic State, also referred to as ISIS, is “postured to withstand” the recent death of leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and probably will maintain “continuity of operations, global cohesion, and at least its current trajectory,” according to the report. Absent U.S. “counterterrorism pressure, ISIS will likely have the ‘time and space’ to target the West and provide support to its global networks and branches,” DIA told Fine’s office.
In Iraq, U.S. commanders told the Pentagon inspector general that Islamic State continued last quarter “to solidify and expand its command and control structures, although it had not increased its capabilities in areas where the Coalition was actively conducting operations against.”
Commanders also added that “ISIS combat power remains in restricted terrain and unpopulated areas where there is little to no local security presence.”