The highest-ranking military leader of the Kurdish forces supported by the United States in Syria has issued a warning about the potential return of ISIS.

On February 8, 2024, the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces, Gen. Mazloum Abdi Kobane, expressed concern about a recent increase in ISIS activity in Syria. He attributed this spike to the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, particularly the escalation of attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-backed forces since October. These attacks have hindered the SDF’s efforts to prevent ISIS from resurging.

Gen. Kobane emphasized the importance of the partnership between the SDF and the U.S. in the global coalition to defeat ISIS. Currently, the U.S. has about 900 troops in Syria, 2,500 in Iraq, and a few hundred in Jordan as part of this mission. However, these forces have been targeted at least 168 times by Iranian-backed groups since October 17.

The commander expressed concern that a withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region would create a power vacuum that could be exploited by various actors. He stated that he has been reassured by U.S. officials that there are no plans for a withdrawal from Syria in the near future. However, discussions have begun between the U.S. and Iraq about transitioning from a coalition mission to a bilateral security mission, which could involve a reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Gen. Kobane also expressed concern that the U.S. presence in Iraq is linked to the presence in Syria, and a withdrawal from Iraq would leave the SDF more vulnerable. These concerns come as the Iraqi government has expressed unease over retaliatory airstrikes launched by the U.S. inside Iraq.

In conclusion, the fight against ISIS continues to be a complex and ongoing effort, with various actors and interests at play. The SDF and the U.S. remain committed to working together to defeat ISIS, but the situation in the region remains fragile and requires careful consideration and coordination.  

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