top of page

Is ISIS defeated? Understanding the consequences of the US withdrawal in Syria.

President Trump announced on December 19 the withdrawal of American troops from Syria considering ISIS 'defeated'. Dr. Patricia Pazos explains this decision and the consequences for global stability and the world.

What happened and why now?

President Donald Trump has decided a "rapid” and "full" withdrawal of US military from Syria.

According to the US position, ISIS has been defeated in Syria. President Trump tweeted: "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency".

Have been ISIS really defeated?

No, ISIS has not been defeated yet. It is far from being defeated and it will take years of strong coalitions, structural changes and international commitment to totally defeat the terrorist group.

The Global Coalition Against ISIS assures that despite major achievements, much work remains.

How powerful is ISIS now?

ISIS is a big network with a strong capability to evolve and reshape in each of the countries where it has an impact. One of the most dangerous aspects of the groups is the ideology, showing no borders and being effective in messaging and gathering supporters and financial networks. The only way to control and defeat ISIS is by disrupting their networks, money flow and counter-messaging. Countries must remain united, sharing information, enforcing capabilities and implementing a successful strategic plan that includes the stability in the region and the aftermath of the war in Syria as well as tailor-made strategies and policies in each country. Every country is different and the group operates in many different ways according to the scenario.

What can we expect from ISIS?

Evolution, metamorphosis, change. ISIS will evolve and become stronger, more resilient and will find other ways of finance, operate and take strategic decisions. ISIS will shape into other practices of extremism.

The years to come are critical for terrorism in the region and in the world.

And what about US troops in Iraq?

The US will maintain troops in Iraq and still be able to launch strikes into Syria.

Consequences of the US withdrawal for other countries?

After the US withdrawal from Syria, US enemies will take advantage of the opportunity once the US is out, such as Russia, Iran and, of course, this action will empower the Assad regime.

Consequences for the US allies?

Allies will feel that the US cannot strongly commit to the cause, showing less US power in a -increasingly unstable- region.

Within the Government, current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton might have seen their actions and advice diminished towards the President.

Another big questions mark is the role of SDF ( alliance of Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian/Syriac militias) and Kurdish Forces in Syria which are currently fighting ISIS and are a US-backed ally. The question now arises: are they still committed to fight ISIS? What's going to happen to their agenda?

An early withdrawal, same mistake as in Iraq?

Obama made the mistake of pulling troops out of Iraq too early, back in 2009, and not considering the aftermath, leaving the country under a serious risk of new terrorism trends, as it was the case for ISIS, who took advantage of the situation back then until becoming the deadliest terrorist group in just a few years. ISIS still remains the MOST dangerous terrorist group. Trump has taken the same decision now, making a huge mistake that will shape the world and the Middle East for the coming years. This is under no doubt a precipitate withdrawal.

Was it an unexpected decision?

Yes, nobody could guess that this could happen at this point, that early, even if it was one of President Trump's promises during the campaign.

What about US’s enemy, Iran?

Iran will take serious advantage of the situation, increasing its power in Syria. A few months ago, John Bolton, US National Security Adviser affirmed that the US would not leave Syria as long as Iranians have troops (including militias and proxies) out of their borders. This is not the case now. After the US decision of leaving Syria, Iran will see a clear opportunity of taken over power in the country and increase its influence in the region. The US has declared Iran ‘the main sponsor of terrorism in the world’ and by giving them leverage in Syria you are inevitably making them stronger and more confident inside and outside their country.

So how is the US going to fight ISIS now?

Economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure and actions with the Global Coalition to combat ISIS. Not enough at this point.

US action in Syria: how many?

About 2.000 troops deployed in the country, most of them training local forces to defeat ISIS.

How is the International Coalition against ISIS going to react?

The Coalition remains committed to ensuring a defeat of ISIS by focusing on reversion to the insurgency in the Core, stabilizing liberated areas and addressing transregional networks.

Overall, this is a catastrophic mistake that will have consequences for the region, the West and will shape security and stability in the coming years.

Patricia Pazos, PhD, is a security analyst and Director of Talking About Terrorism. Her work focuses on counterterrorism policies, radicalization and terrorism as a global threat.


bottom of page