The report said that with the United States continuing its drawdown in Syria, experts fear that the Islamic State could return stronger than ever unless other nations step in—but no replacement forces have yet been committed.
“Our expectation is the slack will be taken up by coalition forces — and we are getting a very encouraging response from them,” James Jeffrey, the top U.S. envoy to Syria and the counter-Islamic State coalition, said in an interview with Defense One in Brussels on Friday. He added that the U.S. withdrawal from Syria—promised in a December tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump, which prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis—was continuing on pace.
But so far, no partner forces have committed to sending additional forces to fill the gap when the majority of U.S. troops depart, potentially providing a dangerous opening for the terrorist group to resurge.
Without some level of American commitment, both political and in the form of funding for operations and stabilization, it’s unlikely key allies will step up to the plate, said Melissa Dalton, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“We really do serve as the political backbone of this operation and for those critical enabling partners,” Dalton said.
The first step toward getting partners, such as the British or the French, to shore up additional support is brokering an agreement between the Turks and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to secure the border, Dalton said.
The French, for example, have been very clear that they are there for counterterrorism and will not participate in a “border monitoring role,” said one U.K. official, who requested anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.
Jeffrey is in the midst of brokering such an agreement, but the delicate negotiations are vulnerable to outside events—an economic downturn in Turkey, a dispute between Washington and Ankara over a Russian missile system, and others.
The Turks want assurances that the SDF—predominantly made up of Kurdish fighters, won’t use northeastern Syria to launch attacks on southern Turkey, while the SDF fears that the Turks will invade the vulnerable border towns.
Without U.S. or allied support to sustain the security and stabilization gains the coalition has made, it’s likely that the Islamic State will “over time be able to prey upon local grievances,” as it did in the lead-up to the 2014 takeover, and eventually “reconstitute and be able to take territory,” Dalton stressed.
At the end of the report the magazine pointed out that as of August 2018, the Islamic State had as many as 30,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria—far more than the 700-1,000 fighters its predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq, had in 2011, when the United States withdrew.
According to a new report by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) that warns of the risk for an Islamic State resurgence. During the gradual fall of the caliphate, the group quietly dispersed across both countries and is now waging a capable insurgency, boosted by a global financial network and sufficient supplies, including weapons, hidden in tunnel systems.