ISIS would return to Syria in ‘one to two years’ if US forces leave
The head of US Central Command defended Washington’s presence in Syria on Thursday, warning that without American troops, ISIS would return to the war-torn country within two years.
“You could see a breakout of the prisons, you could see the radicalisation inside Al Hol [detention camp] and it is our estimate that ISIS would return in one to two years,” Gen Michael “Erik” Kurilla told the House Armed Services Committee as he faced questions about what would happen if US troops were to leave Syria.
About 900 US troops are based in Syria, predominantly in the east, supporting partner Syrian Democratic Forces in countering ISIS through Washington’s Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR).
Despite being territorially defeated in Syria in 2019, the US-designated terrorist group continues to wage a low-level insurgency across northern Iraq and Syria, and often attacks members of the Kurdish-led SDF.
US forces have operated inside Syria since 2015 under the 2001 and 2002 Authorisations for Use of Military Force, though the latter could soon be repealed by Congress.
Washington says OIR’s mission is “to advise, assist and enable partner forces until they can independently defeat ISIS in designated areas of Iraq and Syria”.
Gen Kurilla noted that the “core” ISIS branch in Syria is “in charge of a global enterprise” of affiliated branches, including ISIS-K, which is active in South Asia and Central Asia, including Afghanistan.
“I think for the return on the investment you get for that very small force, what you’re seeing is really the containment of ISIS in Syria right now,” said Gen Kurilla.
The general outlined the case for a continued American presence in Syria to the committee, which includes far-right Representative Matt Gaetz, who recently introduced war powers resolution to withdraw US troops from the country.
The measure failed, with the House of Representatives voting down the bill 103 to 321.
“The United States is currently not in a war with or against Syria, so why are we conducting dangerous military operations there … America First means actually putting the people of our country first — not the interests of the military industrial complex,” Mr Gaetz said in defence of the resolution.
Republican representatives also used the general’s justification of the US presence in Syria to draw a parallel to the 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan, which allowed for the Taliban takeover.
“You laid out a compelling case for why it’s critical that we have partnership, we have presence [in Syria],” said Representative Mike Waltz. “Why is it critical to have a presence in partnership in Syria to go after ISIS but it’s acceptable to not have [one] in Afghanistan?”
Gen Kurilla dodged questions relating to policy decisions made by President Joe Biden’s administration but conceded that ISIS is “stronger today in Afghanistan” than it was a year ago.