Mere weeks after President Donald Trump declared on Twitter that the Islamic State was defeated in Syria and it was time to leave, the militants claimed credit for an attack that, in one stroke, doubled the overall death toll the U.S. has suffered in the counter-ISIS campaign. An explosion in the Kurdish-held town of Manbij killed two U.S. soldiers, along with a Defense Department civilian and a contractor, according to the Pentagon. More than 10 others were also reported killed.
“Our fight against terrorism is ongoing and we will remain vigilant and committed to its destruction,” Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan told reporters after the attack. But the fight has grown more complicated as the military begins the process of withdrawing some 2,000 troops from Syria and diplomats scramble to plan what will happen after they leave.
The assault in northern Syria underscores both the reasons Trump wants to get out and the forces that will make it difficult. The administration has said that ISIS has lost some 98 percent of its territory, but official estimates from both the U.S. Defense Department and the United Nations put the number of ISIS members in the thousands. Last April, a spokesman for the counter-ISIS coalition noted that as the group was driven out of territory, it had sought ways to rebuild itself in desert areas, as well as in population centers.