ISIS: The end of the caliphate is near
ISIS is “approaching the end of its short and terrible life,” said Matthew Continetti in National Review.com. U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have already driven the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria from the eastern half of Mosul, and are currently retaking the western half of the Iraqi city. In Syria, Kurdish militias are closing in on Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital, ahead of a planned siege and assault that will end the terrorist group’s existence as a state. But the Kurds aren’t doing it alone. About 400 U.S. Marines and soldiers arrived in Syria last week to provide artillery support for the assault on Raqqa—nearly doubling the number of American troops deployed in the war-torn country. The looming question is “What happens the day after Raqqa falls?” Does the U.S. keep troops in Syria to keep it from reverting to chaos, or pull out to avoid getting stuck in another quagmire? And who will make these difficult decisions: President Trump or his generals?
The U.S. is currently performing a tricky balancing act in Syria, said Jared Malsin in Time.com. Our troops are working closely with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia. But the YPG has “deep ties” to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey, and the Turkish government—another U.S. ally—regards the group as “an existential threat comparable to ISIS.” The situation is “so volatile” that some U.S. forces have been deployed in the northern town of Manbij purely to keep our two allies from attacking each other. It’s not even clear “which fighters will actually seize Raqqa,” said Michael Gordon in The New York Times. U.S. generals favor “a mixed force of Syrian Arabs and the YPG.” But Turkey won’t be happy with that— and a secondary war may eventually erupt.
Thus far, Trump has relied on the “Obama blueprint for battling ISIS,” said Max Boot in CommentaryMagazine.com. But when Raqqa falls, the commander in chief will have to make some “hard decisions.” To prevent the kind of power vacuum that originally allowed ISIS to blossom, the U.S. probably has to leave some troops on the ground. But that would go completely against Trump’s repeated pledge to end what he called “the era of nation building.” Which imperative will be more important to Trump: defeating ISIS for good or keeping the U.S. out of long-term foreign interventions?