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Saturday, July 20, 2024

PERSPECTIVE: Selling Out Our Allies in Syria

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria,” Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday, “my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency.”

While tweeting this triumph, President Trump seems to have completely forgotten the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who have been the United States’ loyal allies on the ground who made that possible with minimizing American losses. More than 1,500 SDF fighters have been killed in the four-year battle on the ground against ISIS and many more injured. Moreover, the SDF has continued to battle ISIS even when Turkey began battering the Kurds in Afrin, opening two fronts. Now Turkey seems to have been handed carte blanche in their potential treatment of our allies, raising serious questions about American loyalty.

And while ISIS has lost 95 percent of its territory in Syria via the coalition airstrikes and SDF ground battles, ISIS cadres are still present in both Syria and Iraq and are continuing by U.S. military estimates to entice up to 100 foreigners each month to travel to Syria to join the group. Two thousand Islamic State fighters are also estimated by our military to be holding out in northern Syria, and “there could be many thousands more sympathizers and supporters preparing to regroup in cells elsewhere,” the Washington Post reports. ISIS attacks still occur on a regular basis in Raqqa, as well as attacks throughout the SDF region, and in Iraq as well, where spillover from the group in Syria continues to influence events. SDF intelligence officials informed ICSVE researchers that many ISIS cadres have temporarily left the group and are hiding out in their villages where the SDF is trying to hunt them down. How they can do so when also fighting Turkey along their northern borders is an important consideration in the possibility of an ISIS resurgence.

ISIS, like al-Qaeda before it, is a group that has shown incredible resilience and the ability to easily replace killed leaders in their flat terrorist organization whose ideological aims and propaganda have already successfully spread around the globe. Will ISIS be reborn with this retreat by one of the world’s most formidable forces? Certainly ISIS will make propaganda gains as a result, claiming they chased U.S. forces out of Syria. The SDF, meanwhile, threatens to release the 3,200 foreign fighters they hold, and have unsuccessfully tried to return to the countries from which they came. These prisoners consist of two-thirds women and children and the other third male fighters, perhaps capable of helping the group revive itself.

Let’s hope the administration returns to the words of U.S. special envoy Brett McGurk, who only last week called quick withdrawal a “reckless” decision, explaining, “If we’ve learned one thing over the years, enduring defeat of a group like this means you can’t just defeat their physical space and then leave; you have to make sure… security gains are enduring.”


The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email [email protected]. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

Anne Speckhard
Anne Speckhard
Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 700 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past three years, she has interviewed ISIS (n=239) defectors, returnees and prisoners as well as al Shabaab cadres (n=16) and their family members (n=25) as well as ideologues (n=2), studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS (and al Shabaab), as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews which includes over 175 short counter narrative videos of terrorists denouncing their groups as un-Islamic, corrupt and brutal which have been used in over 125 Facebook campaigns globally. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and consulting with governments on issues of repatriation and rehabilitation. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism expert and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, the EU Commission and EU Parliament, European and other foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA, and FBI and appeared on CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: https://georgetown.academia.edu/AnneSpeckhardWebsite: and on the ICSVE website http://www.icsve.org Follow @AnneSpeckhard

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