Former U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned over disagreements with President Donald Trump, has warned that the Islamic State (IS) extremist group could “resurge” in the wake of Trump’s decision to pull troops out of northeast Syria.
“We have got to keep the pressure on [IS] so they don't recover," Mattis told NBC News’ Meet the Press program in an interview summary released on October 12. The full interview will be broadcast on October 13.
"We may want a war over; we may even declare it over,” Mattis said in the interview
“You can pull your troops out as President [Barack] Obama learned the hard way out of Iraq, but the 'enemy gets the vote,' we say in the military. And in this case, if we don't keep the pressure on, then ISIS will resurge. It's absolutely a given that they will come back."
Trump has faced criticism since withdrawing U.S. troops who were in the area working with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to fight IS, which had been beaten back by a phalanx of efforts since controlling swaths of Iraq and Syria.
Critics accused the president of betraying allied Kurdish fighters, who are now under attack in a Turkish military offensive in northern Syria. Ankara considers Kurdish fighters to be terrorists and has threatened to drive them out of the region.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have warned that Trump’s move will likely lead to a resurgence of IS. Kurdish forces are holding an estimated 10,000 IS prisoners, and experts fear they will escape detention as Kurdish and Turkish forces engage in battle.
Mattis resigned his position late in 2018 over differences with Trump, including an earlier announcement by the president that he was pulling “all” troops out of Syria, a move that the White House later stepped back from.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told NBC News the U.S. decision to stand aside as Turkey moves into Syria was "shocking and unexpected."
He called it "a huge mistake" that will allow IS to "reunite itself and appear again stronger than before."
"It seems that the policy of the United States is to betray their friends and allies," Bali added.
Since Trump’s pullout announcement, he and other U.S. officials have threatened strong action, including sanctions that could wreak havoc with the Turkish economy, if Turkey overstepped in Syria.