Trump and his generals are both wrong


US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from Syria was based on the erroneous assumption the menace of Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) was at an end. It also took no account of the fate of the Syrian Kurdish YPG forces, alongside whom some 2,000 US troops have been operating. The YPG rather than the Assad regime’s army has been most responsible for the defeat of Daesh. Assad’s troops are far better at crushing his own defenseless people than well-armed terrorist fanatics.

Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to smash the YPG which it accuses of having supportive links with the current PKK terrorist insurgency in Turkey itself. The moment the last US soldier ships out of Syria, the Turkish military will no longer run the risk of killing Americans as and when it uses its overwhelming firepower to assault north Syria’s Kurdish regions.

But if Trump is wrong about the defeat of Daesh, the judgment of the US Central Command on the future moves of the terrorists is also questionable. They have just released a report warning that Daesh is poised for a resurgence. They stand by estimates originally made by the Pentagon last August that there are still between 13,000 and 14,500 terrorists in Syria and as many as 17,000 more in Iraq. The Central Command concludes that if US support is now withdrawn, Daesh could retake territory and begin its insane and bloody “caliphate” project all over again. The US generals also warn that Daesh will make considerable propaganda out of the departure of American forces, claiming they have scored a major victory over the United States.

This last concern seems overdone if not indeed specious. Daesh’s once dominant social media propaganda has long since been exposed as blasphemous claptrap. Its defeat in detail by Coalition forces, which include the Kingdom, is clear for all but the most profound dupes to see.

But how realistic is the Central Command’s analysis that Daesh could once again take to the formal battlefield? It would clearly value the renewed opportunity to launch airstrikes against concentrated bodies of terrorists and the support and logistics that they would need to maintain themselves in the field. But will such regroupings really take place? The estimate that there are up to 31,000 Daesh killers at large suggests the generals want to establish that they still have a substantial enemy force to target. Perversely, this smacks of wishful thinking.

When Daesh really does lose its last piece of seized territory, it will begin to operate from the shadows seeking to strike out with the sort of terrorist “spectaculars” that will keep its name in the news. There can be no doubt that cleverer members of its leadership have been preparing for this different murderous phase. However, equally there ought to be no doubt that the US military along with its allies has also been getting ready for this change. While the physical defense against Daesh terror must rest with local security forces, there is a major job to be done by the US and sister intelligence services in gathering and collating terabytes of new data collected from the terrorists’ communications. Trump cannot disengage America from this crucial final phase to seek and destroy Daesh in its shadows.