'Deeply compromised’: Counterterrorism expert warns killing of Iranian military commander likely means the end of anti-ISIS coalition

'Deeply compromised’: Counterterrorism expert warns killing of Iranian military commander likely means the end of anti-ISIS coalition
U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson

With a U.S. air strike having killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani and tensions between the United States and Iran escalating, the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria) has been suspended. Counterterrorism expert Luke Hartig, in a January 6 article for Just Security, explains why putting anti-ISIS efforts on hold is a terrible development.

“The fight against ISIS is on hold; it’s unclear how exactly it will ever resume,” Hartig laments. “With U.S. and coalition forces hunkered down in anticipation of Iranian retaliation for the killing of Qasem Soleimani and the Iraqi parliament calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country —  combined with continued fallout from President Trump’s decision to withdraw from parts of Syria — our counterterrorism campaign is deeply compromised.”

Hartig goes on to explain, “Counterterrorism is about much more than dropping bombs and training partners, and unless the president or somebody in his administration shows some diplomatic savvy in a hurry, our campaign against ISIS in the region is, for most all intents and purposes, over.”

Making the anti-ISIS campaign successful, Hartig stresses, required a great deal of hard work and planning, including “carefully managing regional relationships” and “an unprecedented coalition of more than 70 nations, from traditional allies to regional powers.”

“U.S. diplomats in Baghdad and officials in Washington urged the Iraqi government to remain committed to the fight while carefully addressing their political concerns,” Hartig explains. “And U.S. officials did as careful a dance as possible in aiding the Syrian Defense Forces, a primarily Kurdish sub-state group operating in an Arab country and right on the doorstep of Turkey.”

In October, Hartig observes, Trump harmed anti-ISIS efforts with his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northeastern Syria and abandon the United States’ Kurdish allies — and the killing of Soleimani makes matters even worse.

“In ordering the killing of Qasem Soleimani, President Trump has made the abandoning of Kurdish partners seem relatively well-considered by comparison,” Hartig asserts. “There are many ways this will likely gut the counter-ISIS campaign…. The bottom line is that there won’t be much counterterrorism going on in Iraq and Syria anytime soon.”


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