Is Trump risk­ing an IS res­ur­rec­tion in West Asia?

Hindustan Times (Amritsar) - - World - Bloomberg let­[email protected]­dus­tan­ ■

WASH­ING­TON:In the US Navy, we say that ev­ery sailor is a fire­fighter. That’s be­cause when a fire breaks out on a ship at sea - a real threat given the com­bustible mix­ture of fuel, am­mu­ni­tion, elec­tri­cal cir­cuits and stored sup­plies the en­tire crew is trained to step up and douse it.

It’s not like you can just walk across the street and let the blaze burn it­self out.

Here is the most im­por­tant les­son - never un­der­es­ti­mate the power of a fire to “re-flash”. If you put out the ini­tial flames but leave smol­der­ing ma­te­rial, there is a high pos­si­bil­ity of it leap­ing back to life.

This is the right way to look at the Is­lamic State (IS) at the mo­ment. Over the past sev­eral years and un­der two pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions, US and al­lied forces have taken away at least 95 per­cent of IS-held ter­rain. But with­out a re-flash watch, there is a chance of the group re­viv­ing it­self.

Some­one who knows this well is the head of the US Cen­tral Com­mand, Joe Vo­tel, a spe­cial forces op­er­a­tor who has led the fight since 2016.

“If the ma­jor ac­tors and their prox­ies be­come em­broiled in a com­pe­ti­tion for in­flu­ence in Syria,” he told Congress re­cently, “it may cre­ate space for IS rem­nants to re­form or re­con­sti­tute.”

He echoed the view of for­mer de­fence sec­re­tary James Mat­tis, who re­signed after Pres­i­dent Trump’s dec­la­ra­tion of a full with­drawal of US troops from Syria.

It’s not just phys­i­cal ter­ri­tory that’s a con­cern. IS re­mains ca­pa­ble in the dig­i­tal realm. It has used so­cial me­dia ef­fec­tively to bring in re­cruits, raise money and set up a com­mand-and-con­trol net­work.

It con­tin­ues to launch ter­ror­ist at­tacks glob­ally, in­clud­ing the deadly bomb­ing last month of a cathe­dral in the Philip­pines.

Bear in mind that to­day’s IS grew out of the col­lapse of the Sunni in­sur­gency in Iraq, and the ill-ad­vised pull­out of all US troops in 2011 with­out leav­ing in place a con­tin­gent to en­sure a sta­ble tran­si­tion.

What would an ef­fec­tive re-flash watch look like? It would mean keep­ing 7,000 to 10,000 US troops across Iraq and Syria for spe­cial op­er­a­tions, in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing and sup­port­ing re­gional al­lies - es­pe­cially Is­rael, Jordan and Saudi Ara­bia.

Ba­si­cally, the US needs to rein­vig­o­rate the global coali­tion against the IS and not let the ter­ror­ists strike back.


■ A civil­ian re­turns to the war-torn city of Ha­jin in Syria's Deir Ez­zor province.

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