U.S. withdrawal from Syria, Turkey offensive strengthening ISIS – Pentagon report

Turkey’s military operation in northeast Syria following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the region has strengthened the Islamic State (ISIS), which is readying new plans for terrorist attacks, a report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said.

ISIS has “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.” Bloomberg quoted the DIA report released Tuesday by the Pentagon’s inspector general as saying. 

Turkey launched a cross-border offensive into northeast Syria on Oct. 9, aiming to clear the region of U.S.-backed Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), a group Ankara considers "terrorists" linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK is an armed group that has been fighting for self-rule in Turkey for over 30 years.

The operation followed a decision by Trump to withdraw U.S. forces from the region, which effectively gave Turkey a green light for the long-planned offensive.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the YPG, spearheaded the U.S.-led war on ISIS in the region, however, the forces have shifted their attention from fighting ISIS to the Turkey offensive.  Reports that some of the tens of thousands of ISIS militants already escaped from Kurdish-run detention camps have sparked fears of the resurgence of the jihadi organisation.

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,” the DIA report said.

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,” the report added. 

Baghdadi was killed in a raid by the U.S. Special Forces in northwest Syria last month. ISIS has named its new leader as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.