Since Turkey, a NATO member, launched its Afrin offensive against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)—a main U.S. ally in the fight against IS—U.S. officials have been warning that the fighting between two U.S. allies is distracting from the main mission, which is defeating IS. . . . The U.S. State Department is already convinced that the terror group has been rebuilding itself in some places in Syria. . . .
The Turkish-led attack on Afrin has forced more than 2,000 Kurdish and Arab fighters deployed against IS frontlines in eastern Syria to withdraw in order to defend the area. U.S. officials have voiced concerns that such changes in battlefield priorities would take pressure off IS, thus allowing the extremists to regroup and re-strategize their attacking capabilities along the Euphrates River Valley. More Kurdish fighters are expected to pull back from the battle against IS as Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has threatened to invade more Syrian Kurdish-held areas after Afrin. . . .
IS still controls around 5 percent of Syria’s territory, particularly in the east and pockets near Damascus. In the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in southern Damascus, IS enjoys a rising popularity among local residents. The group also maintains a significant presence near the Israeli border, where it has at least one dangerous affiliate, the Khalid bin al-Walid Army. Around 1,500 IS militants are estimated to be present across Syria, some of them moving about mostly freely as the U.S.-led air campaign has significantly decreased, especially after the liberation of Raqqa.
IS as we knew it may not exist anymore, but it can certainly morph into an insurgency and attempt to reestablish itself in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa, while still using war-ravaged Syria as its command center. . . . The longer the stalemate drags on in Syria, the better it is for IS—and other terrorist groups, for that matter—to feed off the chaos and to continue posing a danger to regional and global security.