The US military is planning to start its withdrawal of ground troops from Syria in a few weeks, to comply with President Donald Trump’s order, according to Army General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command.
Speaking on Sunday to reporters who are traveling with him on his final tour of the Middle East, Votel said the actual date of the withdrawal would depend on the situation on the ground in Syria, where an effort to eliminate ISIS from Syria is in progress, with the US supporting local Sunni and Kurd militias in heavy fighting near the Iraqi border.
The president, for his part, tweeted overnight: “The US will soon control 100% of ISIS territory in Syria. @CNN (do you believe this?).”
But CNN in reality reported on Monday that General Votel did not support the president’s view on the state of ISIS in the region. In fact, according to CNN, the top US commander of the war against ISIS supported the US intelligence assessment that “tens of thousands” of ISIS fighters are still alive and kicking in Syria and Iraq.
“They are dispersed and disaggregated, but there is leadership, there are fighters there, there are facilitators there,” Gen. Joseph Votel insisted.
On December 19, Trump tweeted: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”
But General Votel, like many US officials, past and present, has warned that an ISIS resurgence is virtually a certainty, unless the US and its allies keep the pressure on them. With the US gone, ISIS will return. Especially since the remaining forces fighting the Islamic State include both Turkey and the Kurds, which are each other’s mortal enemies.
According to Reuters, a yet to be released UN report estimates there are as many as 18,000 ISIS troops in Syria and Iraq, which include some 3,000 foreign volunteers. The report also warned ISIS is planning attacks on civilian flights, as well as employing chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials in their war of resurgence once the US is gone from the area.