Top general leading U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria warns of ISIS resurgence

The commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces warned Thursday there’s been a “spike” in ISIS activity in Syria recently, as ISIS tries to take advantage of tensions in the Middle East.

Gen. Mazloum Abdi Kobane, the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces, told reporters in a Zoom briefing Thursday that the escalation of attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-backed forces since October has impeded their efforts to prevent ISIS from resurging.

“We’re seeing that ISIS is taking the benefit from all these attacks, and we have seen a spike in movements of ISIS,” he told reporters through a translator.

The SDF and the U.S. work together in Syria in the global coalition to defeat ISIS. The U.S. has about 900 troops in Syria, 2,500 in Iraq, and a few hundred in Jordan as a part of that mission. Those forces have been attacked at least 168 times by Iranian-backed groups since Oct. 17.

Kobane said that if U.S. forces withdraw, there would be “chaos” and a gap that many actors would want to exploit. He said he has been reassured by U.S. officials that the U.S. is not planning on withdrawing from Syria anytime soon.

At the same time, Iraq has begun discussions with the U.S. about an eventual transition away from the coalition mission to a bilateral security mission, which could include a reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

The talks have been expected since August but come as the Iraqi government has expressed concern over retaliatory airstrikes the U.S. has launched inside of Iraq.

Gen. Kobane told reporters Thursday that he’s concerned that the U.S. presence in Iraq is linked to the presence in Syria and that a withdrawal from Iraq would mean a withdrawal from Syria that would make the SDF more vulnerable.

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