Pentagon watchdog: US withdrawal from Iraq would ‘likely’ mean ISIS resurgence
A U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq would “likely” lead to an ISIS resurgence, according to an intelligence assessment revealed in an inspector general report Tuesday.
“The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)’s analysis for the DoD OIG [Department of Defense Office of Inspector General] indicates that without a U.S. troop presence in Iraq, ISIS would likely resurge in Iraq,” Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine wrote in an introduction to the report.
The latest quarterly report from the lead inspector general for Operation Inherent Resolve comes as U.S.-Iraqi relations continue to reel from the fallout over the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani at the Baghdad International Airport.
Following the strike, Iraq’s parliament passed a nonbinding resolution calling for the removal of U.S. military forces from the country, where about 5,000 U.S. troops are leading the coalition fighting ISIS.
Still, Iraq has not initiated a formal process to kick U.S. troops out, and Trump administration officials have said they have no plans to leave Iraq.
Meanwhile, joint U.S.-Iraqi military operations against ISIS paused after the Soleimani strike. Iraq announced last week the joint operations had resumed.
Tuesday’s report, which was largely completed before the Soleimani strike, said it remains unclear whether the pause has affected ISIS’s ability to regroup in Iraq.
“The Combined Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) stated to the DoD OIG that it was too soon to be able to assess the effects of the pause in operations and that due to operational priorities it declined to answer questions from the DoD Office of Inspector General (DoD OIG) about the late-breaking developments in January 2020,” the report said.
During the quarter, Iraqi forces conducted “many operations” against ISIS independently, while some other operations were “minimally enabled” the U.S.-led coalition’s air support and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, the report said. “Large-scale operations” were conducted by coalition forces in conjunction with Iraqi forces, the report added.
Meanwhile, in Syria, officials disputed the extent to which ISIS took advantage of Turkey’s offensive against the Kurds.
The Defense Intelligence Agency, citing claims on ISIS websites, said the terrorist group “probably increased its attacks in northeast Syria by at least 20 percent” after the Turkish invasion in northeast Syria, according to the report.
But the anti-ISIS coalition disputed that finding, telling the inspector general that “ISIS-claimed attacks are ‘most likely propaganda,’ and that CJTF-OIR’s determination that the Turkish incursion did not result in any significant ISIS resurgence is based on ‘known facts.’ ”
One point of agreement was that the October death of leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a U.S. raid in Syria has not affected the group’s capabilities.
U.S. Central Command and the Defense Intelligence Agency both assessed that al-Baghdadi’s death “has not resulted in any immediate degradation to ISIS’ capabilities,” the report said.