(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Matthew Crane)

DoD: ISIS to 'likely resurge' in Syria with US troop withdrawal

February 04, 2019 - 3:01 pm

By Ben Krimmel

ISIS remains an active and "potent force" in Syria and Iraq and could likely retake territory already lost in Syria following a U.S. troop departure, according to a Department of Defense Inspector General report released Monday.

The Pentagon reported "absent sustained (counterterrorism) pressure, ISIS could likely resurge in Syria within six to twelve months and regain limited territory in the (region)" and is still capable of coordinating offensives and counteroffensives.

Officials described the remaining ISIS fighters as “battle-experienced,” “hardened,” and “well-disciplined" with approximately 2,000 fighters still in the region of eastern Syria where U.S. forces have been operating.

The report comes days after President Donald Trump said in an interview there was "very little ISIS" left in Syria.

"Now you have very little ISIS and you have the caliphate almost knocked out," Trump said in an interview with CBS's "Face the Nation." "We will be announcing in the not too distant future 100 percent of the caliphate which is the area — the land — the area — 100. We're at 99 percent right now, we'll be at 100."

Trump caught allies off-guard in December when he announced a withdrawal of the 2,200 troops from Syria, which led to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' abrupt resignation

RELATED: Was Mattis fired? Or did he quit?

"We’ve knocked them out. We’ve knocked them silly," Trump said of ISIS in Syria during his December visit to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq. 

The US began the process of decreasing its footprint in Syria in early January. 

"ISIS may conduct opportunistic attacks on U.S. personnel as they withdraw but will leverage the event as a 'victory' in its media," the quarterly report for the Inspector General for Operation Inherent Resolve said.

In Iraq, the DoD reported, "ISIS is regenerating key functions and capabilities more quickly" than in Syria.

President Trump stated in December the US will maintain a troop presence there “to prevent an ISIS resurgence and to protect U.S. interests."

RELATED: Trump on Syria: 'I never said we're doing it that quickly'

Trump told CBS News this week, he would use troops in Iraq to "watch Iran" because "I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem." 

"I want to be able to watch Iran. All I want to do is be able to watch," Trump said. "We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It's perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up."

"And this is what a lot of people don't understand. We're going to keep watching and we're going to keep seeing and if there's trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we're going to know it before they do," Trump said.

The report echoes last week's testimony from US intelligence chiefs who told lawmakers a vacuum left by the departure of US forces could be filled by ISIS or al Qaeda. But the President did not close the door on redeployment of troops to the region.

"We'll come back if we have to. We have very fast airplanes, we have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly, and I'm not leaving," Trump told CBS News. "We have a base in Iraq and the base is a fantastic edifice. I mean I was there recently, and I couldn't believe the money that was spent on these massive runways."

"And frankly, we're hitting the caliphate from Iraq and as we slowly withdraw from Syria," Trump said.

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