Former Defense Secretary James Mattis suggested during a Sunday interview that President Trump’s withdrawal of troops from northeastern Syria would encourage a resurgence of the Islamic State in the same that way president Obama’s drawdown of forces in Iraq allowed the group to form in the first place.
“You can pull your troops out, as President Obama learned the hard way, out of Iraq,” Mattis said on Meet the Press, “but the enemy gets the vote, we say in the military.”
Mattis said the situation in the region was in “disarray” after the U.S. withdrawal. There are roughly 12,000 ISIS prisoners in Kurdish detention facilities, and it is not clear what will happen to them as a result of fighting between Kurdish and Turkish forces.
“If we don’t keep the pressure on, then ISIS will resurge. It’s absolutely a given that they will come back,” Mattis continued.
As reports came in of ISIS prisoners escaping detention, Trump suggested on Monday that the Kurds were deliberately releasing prisoners to try and drag the U.S. back into the region.
“Kurds may be releasing some to get us involved,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Easily recaptured by Turkey or European Nations from where many came, but they should move quickly.”
Trump announced on October 7 that the U.S. would pull troops from the Syrian-Turkish border in anticipation of a Turkish invasion of the region.
Turkey has already begun to conquer territory in northern Syria, which it will use to resettle Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey. The incursion is also intended to push back Kurdish militia groups that Turkey considers terrorist organizations, some of which allied themselves with U.S. forces to fight ISIS.
On Monday, the E.U. unanimously condemned Turkey’s invasion into Syria and called on member states to impose an arms embargo on Turkey.