ISIS terrorists may soon make a comeback, and former President Donald Trump will bear a significant portion of the blame.
A Fox News story Friday lays out the scenario: “There is significant concern that Turkey’s planned ground invasion into Syria to root out the U.S.-allied Kurds could open the floodgates for the release of thousands of imprisoned Islamic State terrorists.” Already, partly as a response to a bombing in Istanbul that wounded 81 people and killed six, which the Turks blamed (without firm proof) on Kurdish separatists, the Turks have used “air and drone strikes [that reportedly] have killed Syrian Kurds and pulverized critical industries in northern Syria.”
The Kurds, most of whom have been firm allies of the West against ISIS terrorism, detain about 10,000 ISIS fighters from some 50 nations. If Turkey invades their strongholds in Syria, the Kurds may no longer be able to detain the terrorists, who could reconstitute the organization known for brutal beheadings and vicious enforcement of Sharia in a vast swath of territory in Iraq and Syria from about 2014 to 2017.
We know this scenario was predictable because many of us predicted it when Trump, in 2019, rashly ordered a precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Syria with no firm agreement with other nations involved in the region. On Oct. 7, 2019, the Washington Examiner editorialized that “President Trump has made a fateful and terrible decision in announcing that the United States will abandon the Kurds in northeastern Syria to the mercies of Turkey’s autocratic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. … [The Kurds] have held prisoner some 10,000 ISIS fighters. It is far from certain that the Turkish government, with its own Islamist proclivities, will care as much about keeping them imprisoned and away from renewed malignancy in the region.”
Two days later, in a column of my own, I wrote that “if the Kurds are unable to ward off the Turks’ vicious assault, it stands to reason that the first role they will abandon is that of jail keeper for 10,000-12,000 ISIS fighters. Once escaped, those ISIS fighters surely will terrorize the U.S. and its allies.”
Nine days after, I wrote that even if Trump unwisely had been determined to order a withdrawal, “it should have been planned. It should have been organized. It should have been done with protection.”
“The consequences, including against the Turks, for violating those understandings should have been clear, certain, and powerful.”
Instead, the U.S. has no agreement at all, much less an enforceable one, and it has no easy way to keep Erdogan from disastrously reinvigorating ISIS in his vendetta against the Kurds.
Of course, Erdogan’s expected military action is now not on Trump’s plate but on that of President Joe Biden. What otherwise would be a regional dispute instead could have major consequences for the U.S. because of the threat from ISIS, which, like al Qaeda before it, has identified the U.S. as its major enemy. After Biden’s disastrously executed withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is far from certain that the president is up to the task of handling a reinvigorated caliphate.
Biden met directly with Erdogan on Nov. 15, but no particular accomplishment seems to have stemmed from the meeting. Now, in a Thanksgiving week twist, it looks as if Turkey is prepared to gobble up the territory Trump left open to it three years ago.