Those who fought the so-called caliphate fear a US withdrawal could help the terrorist group to rise again
On a blazing afternoon in Syria’s eastern desert this month, a Kurdish commander was hot under the collar. An American raid had just taken place against remnants of the Islamic State (IS), and Lukman Khalil, the region’s most senior military leader, had known nothing about it, the Guardian reports.
The US forces had flown across the wasteland of the terrorist group’s last redoubt. Three years ago it was teeming with diehard IS members, but when thousands of holdouts emerged from the decimated town of Baghuz, the war against the so-called caliphate was won, or so it seemed.
“People couldn’t be more wrong,” said Khalil. “[IS] thinks this was a lull, not a loss. And now they’re back to fighting us from the shadows.”
IS and the destruction it wreaked may be slipping from the memory of a relieved world. But where it all began – and seemingly ended – Kurdish forces say a new crisis is building. “An ideology cannot be finished easily,” said Khalil. “They are regrowing and learning to be patient again. And this time they’re doing so on both sides of the river.”
Khalil had been at the vanguard of the fight against IS since 2014, leading battles in Kobane, Raqqa and finally the apparent last stand of the terrorist group in the decimated town of Baghuz seven years later. Like most Kurdish leaders, he had celebrated the demise of IS. But his unease remained and has grown ever since. “Every day our anti-terror units are doing at least one operation,” he said. “Yesterday the Americans killed three people and today the French did an attack. The targets are all IS people and they’re all in the towns near us.”
The raid that rankled with Khalil had been launched from Iraq and – unusually – had not been coordinated with the Kurdish-led alliance raised by Washington, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has remained a spear tip of the residual Isis fight. “If the Americans are going to fly in to do raids, we need to know about it,” Khalil shouted down the line to another senior officer in the nearby city of Hasakah. “We have been partners for all these years, and now is not the time to go it alone.
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