President Donald Trump's order to withdraw troops from northern Syria, combined with Turkey's assault against Kurdish forces, allowed the Islamic State to strengthen its position there, the Pentagon's inspector general said in a new report released on Tuesday.
The withdrawal and incursion allowed ISIS to "reconstitute capabilities and resources within Syria and strengthen its ability to plan attacks abroad," the quarterly report from the lead inspector general on the U.S. military campaign against ISIS stated. The report cited information from the Defense Intelligence Agency.
"The DIA also reported that without counterterrorism pressure, ISIS will probably be able to more freely build clandestine networks and will attempt to free ISIS members detained in [Syrian Democratic Forces]-run prisons and family members living in internally displaced persons ... camps," the inspector general added.
"In the longer term, ISIS will probably seek to regain control of some Syrian population centers and expand its global footprint, the DIA said," the inspector general added.
Both political parties have criticized the Trump administration for withdrawing U.S. troops from northern Syria last month. Critics say the move undermined the fight against ISIS and undercut Kurdish forces who partnered with U.S. forces in the campaign.
The inspector general also noted DIA's assessment that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death at the hand of U.S. forces in October "would likely have little effect on ISIS's ability to reconstitute."
Syria had roughly 1,000 U.S. troops at the time of Trump's order. Trump later ordered troops to go back into Syria to protect oil fields in the east, and now top Pentagon officials say the troop level will be about 600.