Syrian Unrest Breathes Life into Islamic State Militant Group
Officials are warning that Turkey's offensive into northeastern Syria might be giving the militant group Islamic State new life.
However, American counterterrorism officials say the group's next moves are unclear.
They warn that Islamic State, or IS, knows how to use conflicts in the area to make gains, as it did in Iraq.
The officials spoke on the condition that their identities would not be released.
IS has used the months since its defeat in Baghuz, Syria, to create "networks" of about 10,000 to 15,000 fighters, the officials said. The group is preparing for a long, violent insurgency.
But, it remains uncertain how IS will change its plans "in Syria in light of the Turkish incursion," a U.S. counterterrorism official told VOA.
Most IS military operations had targeted Kurdish security forces before Turkey launched its offensive. Now, some believe, it is possible that IS may try to free some of its 12,000 fighters being held by the U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces – or SDF. It may also try to free some of the IS wives and other family members in camps in the area. In September, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi asked his fighters to do just that.
It is unclear how many captured IS fighters may have escaped or been freed since American troops began to withdraw from northern Syria. Turkey and the SDF both claim IS prisoners are not being freed, but each has accused the other of releasing prisoners who agree to fight. Both sides reject these claims.
Conditions ripe for thriving IS
U.S. officials fear the unrest in Syria will help IS rebuild. The lack of safety for local populations, ethnic divisions and government corruption help IS grow.
These are all issues "that ISIS has... exploited," said the U.S. counterterrorism official.
And IS may be recovering from its recent defeat.
Safeguarding Syria's oil, infrastructure
There are fears IS may try to target oil fields now under the control of Kurdish forces. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, said they are secure.
"We secured the oil," Trump said during a cabinet meeting Monday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed Tuesday that some troops "remain in the towns that are located near the oil fields." The purpose of their presence "is to deny access to those oil fields by ISIS and others who may benefit from revenues that could be earned," Esper told reporters Monday during a news conference in Afghanistan.
I'm Jonathan Evans.