President Donald Trump’s desire to pull U.S. advisers from Syria — a decision subsequently revisited — and reduce troop strength in Afghanistan has created concerns about his focus on actual jihadists, as opposed to those he would thwart with a border wall.
Trump declared in a Dec. 19 video, “We have won against ISIS. Our boys, our young women, our men — they’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now.”
Yet that victory is not complete — and new threats are arising.
A United Nations report in August estimated ISIS has 20,000 to 30,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, despite diminished territory.
Indeed, Trump’s proclamation was reminiscent of George W. Bush’s premature claim in May 2003 of “mission accomplished” in Iraq and Barack Obama ordering most U.S. troops out of Iraq in 2011 while likening ISIS to al-Qaida’s “junior varsity.”
Trump’s 30-day timetable was quickly expanded to four months after a backlash from Senate Republicans and the military, which wanted more time to extricate personnel and equipment.
Now even that seems in doubt.
Trump’s decision came after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who vowed to eliminate ISIS in Syria if the U.S. leaves. Noncombatant U.S. advisers have assisted the Syrian Kurds in largely driving out ISIS.
Erdogan also could turn against the Kurds, a large ethnic minority in Turkey whom he regards as an internal threat.
By conceding Syria to Iran and Russia (they “can do what they want”), Trump would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a win and stoke fears in Israel about the lack of a U.S. presence.
Then the “reality setting” — as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Fla., called it — kicked in.
National Security Adviser John Bolton went to Israel and Turkey, stating U.S. forces would stay in Syria until the last vestiges of ISIS were gone and Turkey vowed not to attack the Kurds.
Meanwhile, the Iraqis and CIA-trained Afghan forces may be sowing the seeds for the next generation of jihadists.
An extensive New Yorker magazine article cited the ramifications of Iraq’s recriminations against minority Sunnis branded as ISIS members or accomplices by intelligence personnel in that predominantly Shiite country.
“We have thousands of suspects in custody whose names were falsely reported, or are based on incorrect information, and they are treated as ISIS members,” a senior Iraqi intelligence official remarked.
Among the offenses are doing tasks for ISIS simply to survive when the jihadists brutally occupied Mosul.
Frequently televised show trials are notable for the absence of defense attorneys — 15 were arrested for supposed ISIS affiliations just for representing defendants. Hundreds of Sunnis have been hanged.
“We’re deleting thousands of families from Iraqi society. This is not just revenge on ISIS. This is revenge on Sunnis,” the officer said, adding, “We rarely abide by the law.”
Many Sunni families are living in dire conditions in concentration camps.
“The camps are a time bomb,” said Sukaina Mohammad Ali Younnis, an Iraqi government official in Mosul. “The fathers are in prison or dead. The mothers are being raped. They will raise the kids accordingly, and their sons will seek revenge. This won’t just affect Mosul, or Nineveh, or Iraq. This will affect the whole world.”
In Afghanistan, Trump is intent on ending U.S. involvement in a 17-year war that has cost $1 trillion. In July 2017 he warily agreed with military advisers to add 3,900 troops while U.S.-backed Afghan forces were losing ground to the Taliban and ISIS.
Now he wants the U.S. troop strength of 14,000 cut in half, leaving much of the fighting to CIA-trained Afghan forces, which a recent New York Times investigation found have been a bulwark against terrorists.
Ominously, though, they also may be breeding new jihadists, slaying hundreds of innocents in raids and escaping accountability. Civilians are equating their lawlessness with the Taliban and ISIS while blaming Americans.
“Often, the raids that resulted in civilian deaths were carried out not far from police outposts or government offices, leaving those American-supported officials humiliated in the villages they had been trying to establish relationships with,” the Times reported. “And because the C.I.A.-sponsored units often use English during operations, their abuses are even more directly equated with the American presence, though claims that American agents have sometimes been on the missions have not been confirmed.”
On our soil, the U.S. has largely escaped ISIS and al-Qaida terror plots — save for jihadist-inspired lone wolf attacks — thanks to the military efforts overseas, renewed intelligence efforts and police work. The only 2018 U.S. “jihadist” fatality involved a Florida teen who stabbed a friend after being taunted about his Islamic faith.
Declaring victory doesn’t end the threats. Neither does outsourcing a war to an ally with ulterior motives. Just as important, the U.S must be cognizant of the breeding grounds for jihadists, addressing policy and military strategy accordingly.