We warned two weeks ago about the danger of abandoning America’s Kurdish-led partner force in Syria, even as thousands of suspected ISIS fighters remain in detention and ISIS attacks steadily increase. This week, with a U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria well under way, and after days of a Turkish assault on the region that’s now supposedly paused despite reports of serious cease-fire violations, we’re facing a new set of problems. Today, though, the U.S. has far less control over what happens—and the continued fighting and uncertainty will benefit ISIS and ISIS alone.
So what now? The U.S. still needs to keep ISIS from threatening U.S. interests, even as it manages the departure of American troops and tries to help create a path forward through the new dynamics on the ground. But what can the U.S. do to mitigate any potential for ISIS resurgence or escape? And what pressure can the U.S. bring to truly halt the Turkish offensive and promote a peaceful dialogue?
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been maintaining a network of prisons in northern Syria that keep suspected ISIS fighters off the battlefield. Since the Turkish incursion against Kurdish forces, though, incredibly alarming media reports say dozens of ISIS detainees and family members have escaped from these facilities in the chaos, and the potential for an ISIS resurgence or insurgency—in areas only recently liberated from the group’s control—is the top threat facing the U.S. and its coalition partners.