Current and former U.S. intelligence officials warned that ISIS could regroup following the American withdrawal from northeast Syria, according to a report from NBC.
Kurdish organizations are currently holding 12,000 ISIS fighters in prison, said the officials, and it is unclear what will happen to them after Turkey’s invasion of Syria. If the fighters are set free, the officials fear that ISIS terrorists will regroup similar to how ISIS was formed during the years 2010 to 2013, when the group’s founders were released or escaped from jail as American forces left Iraq.
President Trump told reporters on Wednesday that if ISIS fighters manage to break free, they “are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go. They want to go back to their homes.”
The officials interviewed by NBC agreed with an assessment that ISIS is still a dangerous threat.
The bipartisan Syria Study Group, a panel appointed by Congress to assess the situation in the country, released a report days before the Turkish invasion indicating that ISIS would seize an opportunity to regroup.
“There’s ample evidence ISIS is still very much active, it has access to tremendous resources, its brand still has international appeal,” said report co-author and senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Dana Stroul.
Trump has drawn criticism from lawmakers who accuse Trump of risking an ISIS resurgence and of effectively abandoning Kurdish forces in the face of a Turkish invasion of northeast Syria after withdrawing U.S. troops from the region.
While Kurdish organizations played a prominent role alongside U.S. troops in the campaign to defeat ISIS, Turkey deems many of those organizations terrorist groups, citing some of the groups’ ties to Kurdish militants in Turkey.