WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria in October provided the Islamic State an opening to rebuild itself, giving the terrorist group "time and space" to target the West, according to a Pentagon report released Tuesday.
The Defense Intelligence Agency told the Pentagon's inspector general that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has taken advantage of the U.S. withdrawal and Turkey's subsequent incursion into Syria. Trump's decision prompted strong bipartisan criticism for removing military pressure on the Islamic State and leaving Kurdish forces that had worked with U.S. troops to roll back gains made by the terrorists.
"ISIS exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of U.S. troops to reconstitute capabilities and resources within Syria and strengthen its ability to plan attacks abroad," the Pentagon's inspector general said in the report.
The report details the fallout from Trump's decision. His order Oct. 6 allowed Turkish forces and paramilitary groups to occupy parts of Syria that had been jointly patrolled by American forces and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces. Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters terrorists. Russian troops also moved into the region.
The Islamic State, which has mounted or inspired terrorist attacks throughout the world, will have a chance to grow again, the report says.
The Defense Intelligence Agency determined that the Islamic State is "postured to withstand" the death of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed in a U.S. raid Oct. 25. Baghdadi's death was a "significant blow to ISIS but would likely not end the ISIS threat," according to the report.
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Glenn Fine, the inspector general, warned that "ISIS will likely have the 'time and space' to target the West and provide support to its global branches and networks, and in the longer term, ISIS will probably seek to regain control of some Syrian population centers and expand its global footprint."
The Defense Intelligence Agency said Islamic State operatives are likely to attempt to free prisoners detained in Kurdish-run detainee camps in Syria, according to Fine.
The report shows that military experts believe a U.S. troop presence in Syria is vital, said Nicholas Heras, an expert on Syria and the Islamic State at the Center for a New American Security.
"There has been no secret that the Pentagon prefers to remain in Syria with a light-footprint U.S. military presence in order to prevent the reemergence of ISIS," Heras said. "ISIS wants to remain in Syria to maintain its networks of operatives to carry out operations in the Middle East and to coordinate with operatives in Europe. U.S. interests in the region and in Europe are at risk if ISIS reconstitutes itself in Syria."
Trump modified his order for a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces. About 600 American troops remain in the country. One group conducts a training mission in southern Syria, and a force backed by armored vehicles protects oil fields in the northeast.
"ISIS fighters are still operating in the region, and unless pressure is maintained, a re-emergence of the group and its capabilities remains a very real possibility," said Army Col. Myles Caggins, the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition. "Our recent re-positioning of forces within the country is intended to posture us to continue this mission."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ISIS: Terror group rebuilds after Trump pulls US troops out of Syria