The U.S.-led coalition in Syria continued to conduct air strikes against the ISIS terrorist group, American officials said Dec. 25, about a week after President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from the war-torn country.
From Dec. 16 to Dec. 22, the coalition said it conducted multiple strikes, including “precision air strikes” and “coordinated fires,” that successfully destroyed logistics facilities and staging areas used by ISIS in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, and “removed several hundred ISIS fighters from the battlefield.” The attacks also damaged the group’s ability to fund its activities by targeting “several ISIS financial centers and capabilities in Susah and As Shafah.”
The coalition partner forces said they would continue to advance and dig out the positions of ISIS fighters, describing the war zone as the “last remaining stronghold ISIS has in the region.”
“ISIS presents a very real threat to the long-term stability in this region and our mission remains the same, the enduring defeat of ISIS,” the deputy commander of the coalition, UK Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, said in a statement.
The continued air support contrasts with initial reports last week that said the United States would likely end its air campaign against ISIS when the troops exit. Trump declared victory against ISIS in his Dec. 19 announcement of the withdrawal, arguing that U.S. troops had no other reason for staying in Syria now that the group has already been defeated.
ISIS has lost all of the territory it once held in Iraq and controls only one percent of the territory it once held in Syria, according to a November report by the Department of Defense.
One U.S. official said last week that a final decision hasn’t been made regarding air-campaign support in Syria, adding that he didn’t rule out “some kind of support for partners and allies.”
The coalition’s recent air strikes also signify the United States’ continued support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who have been an effective force against ISIS.
The United States has also told the U.N. Security Council that it’s committed to the “permanent destruction” of ISIS and would keep pushing for the withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces in the country.
The withdrawal of the U.S. troops could potentially open the region to the Turkish military. The SDF, with the U.S.’s support, has been fighting against ISIS for three years.
In a series of tweets on Dec. 23, Trump said that he had a productive call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, during which they “discussed ISIS, our mutual involvement in Syria,” as well as the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the area, which he described as “highly coordinated.”
“President @RT_Erdogan of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria….and he is a man who can do it plus, Turkey is right “next door.” Our troops are coming home!” the president said in another post on Twitter.
Meanwhile, France, a leading member of the U.S-led coalition, said that it would keep troops in northern Syria and continue to fight ISIS.
Israel Maintains ‘Red Lines’
Speaking to air force cadets at the Hatzerim Air Force Base on Dec. 26, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from Syria “does not change our policies—we will maintain our red lines in Syria and everywhere else.”
Netanyahu said that “Operation Northern Shield,”—a part of Israel’s effort to thwart outside threats—will continue to eliminate Hezbollah attack tunnels. Hezbollah is an Iran-backed terrorist organization based in neighboring Lebanon.
“We are destroying Hezbollah’s terror tunnels one after the other,” he told cadets, according to the Jerusalem Post. “They thought to create a weapon of destruction to be used against us, but we defeat them with trickery, daring, and determination.”
Netanyahu also hinted that Israel was responsible for the recent air attacks against Iranian targets near Damascus, saying that Israel is acting against Iranian entrenchment in Syria “continuously and with firmness.”
At the same time, the Russian military on Dec. 26 criticized the alleged Israeli airstrike, saying that it had endangered civilian flights and describing it as “provocative.”
“Defending the homeland starts with eradicating major hostile threats,” Netanyahu told cadets. “We are not willing to accept an Iranian entrenchment in Syria that is directed against us.”
Netanyahu pledged that Israel wouldn’t allow Iran to establish a permanent military presence in Syria, and that Israel’s air force had “special capabilities that no other country in the region has.”
Those capabilities, he added, include “weapons systems, defensive systems, and attack missiles that can reach everywhere and every target.”