Donald Trump Is Wrong, ISIS Hasn't Been Defeated in Syria, Experts Say

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the Islamic State group (ISIS) has been defeated, precipitating reports that he has ordered a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. But military officials and analysts argue that the threat from ISIS remains very real, and the West shouldn't become complacent.

"We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency," Trump tweeted on Wednesday, shortly before the White House officially announced its intention to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

But Tobias Ellwood, a British ministry of defense politician who reached the rank of captain in the royal army, quickly responded to Trump's tweet.

"I strongly disagree. It has morphed into other forms of extremism and the threat is very much alive," Ellwood tweeted back at Trump.

I strongly disagree.
It has morphed into other forms of extremism and the threat is very much alive.

— Tobias Ellwood MP (@Tobias_Ellwood) December 19, 2018

Trump's comments also contradicted his own State Department from just a week previous. The State Department Wednesday canceled its daily briefing amidst reports that it was surprised by the announcement. A week earlier, officials said "nobody is declaring a mission accomplished" in the fight against ISIS

Meanwhile, some analysts argue that the fall of the ISIS caliphate doesn't mean that the group itself has vanished.

"Anyone who thinks ISIS has been defeated in Syria doesn't know ISIS or Syria, much less the broader context. Just because the caliphate came to an end doesn't mean the group itself did. On the contrary, it's still operational and active—witness all the activity in western Iraq," Chris Meserole, a Middle East expert at the Washington D.C.-based Brookings Institution, told Newsweek.

"Pulling out at this point would likely be a mistake. The only thing harder than fighting the Islamic State is fighting it blind—which is what we'll end up doing if we pull out completely," Meserole added.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a journalist and senior fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations who has made frequent trips to Northern Syria over the past year, agrees with Meserole's assessment. In an op-ed for Defense One published on Wednesday, Lemmon argued that security in the previously ISIS-controlled areas of Syria is still fragile.

"Last week in Northeast Syria, one thought struck me when it came to the battle against the so-called Islamic State: If the ISIS fight is over, no one has told ISIS," Lemmon wrote in her essay. "I have been watching Raqqa closely since April, including from the ground. A shift in U.S. policy that would remove American troops from Northeast Syria would jeopardize the gains U.S.troops and their partner Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, have fought—and sacrificed—to achieve," she continued.

Meanwhile, recent reports by the United Nations, the Pentagon inspector general, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies have all estimated that ISIS still has between 20 and 30,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria.

On Wednesday, Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen issued a strongly worded statement calling Trump's decision "dangerous."

"The President's decision to withdraw troops from Syria is dangerous, premature and wholly inconsistent with the facts on the ground in Syria and our military's advice," Shaheen said in a statement. "I have traveled to Syria and know firsthand that our military has performed well beyond expectations. I am very concerned that an ill-informed and hasty withdrawal of troops will not only breathe new life into ISIS and other terrorist groups, but it will also cede America's hard-fought gains in the region to Russia, Iran and Assad.