WASHINGTON — The outgoing commander of U.S. Central Command announced an unpleasant present for his successor: ISIS will be back as nasty as ever.
Gen. Joseph Votel, who leaves his job as CentCom commander this spring, told the House Armed Services Committee the current seemingly surrender of ISIS in its last land holding in Baghouz, eastern Syria is, in part, a calculated ruse to leave the enclave to avoid being killed by the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.
“They are in one square mile and they are unrepentant, unbroken and still radicalized,” Votel said Thursday. Asked what will happen to ISIS once their last land holding is taken, he said it “will look very much like an insurgency.
“We will see low-level attacks. We’ll see assassinations. We’ll see IED (bomb) attacks. We’ll see ambush-type things as they begin to emerge from this,” Votel said.
“”We will need to maintain a vigilant offensive against this now widely dispersed and disaggregated organization that includes leaders, fighters, facilitators, resources and — of course — their toxic ideology,” he said.
Votel confirmed he was not consulted ahead of President Donald Trump’s announcement last December that the U.S. forces in Syria would be withdrawn. That order was amended, with now 400 of the roughly 3,000 troops to remain.
Votel pointed to the success of Iraqi anti-terrorist forces in dealing with ISIS as a template for where the U.S. coalition has operated in eastern Syria.
“What our focus has to be is working with our partners on the ground as we’re doing fairly effectively in Iraq right now,” Votel said. “We are going to have to keep pressure on this.”
Votel made it clear that ISIS is not surrendering as an organization but has made “a calculated decision to preserve the safety of their families and preservation of their capabilities.” He said they are scattering to remote locations and melding into populations “waiting for the right time to resurge.”