America's top intelligence chief has said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is set to retake the entire country in the near future. “President Bashar al-Assad has largely defeated the opposition and is now seeking to regain control over all of the Syrian territory,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said during a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday.
And in comments that appeared to vindicate President Trump's Syria withdrawal strategy predicated upon the Islamic State's defeat, DNI Coats said that pro-Assad forces continue to "re-take territory" from what remains of ISIS while carefully avoiding war with US allies Israel and Turkey. "The regime will focus on retaking territory while seeking to avoid conflict with Israel and Turkey" DNI Coats testified.
This echoes a previous December statement of Trump's wherein the president defended his Syria troop draw down based on the idea that American forces were fighting the enemies of Iran, Russia, and Syria for them (that is, fighting a jihadist insurgency that was simultaneously warring against Assad).
"Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there [sic] work. Time to come home & rebuild" — Trump had tweeted, with the implication that Damascus and its allies would inevitably finish off the dirty work of cleaning out the terror insurgency.
Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there work. Time to come home & rebuild. #MAGA— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2018
It should be noted that Coats also deflated that most absurd of all conspiracy theories — namely that ISIS' prior growth was Assad's fault and that the terror group can't be defeated so long as he remains in power (a longtime favorite argument of uber-hawks like Senators Graham, Rubio, McCain, and others).
Speaking on the new Worldwide Threat Assessment released by DNI Coats on Tuesday, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan also addressed the subject of ISIS' defeat, saying ISIS has lost "99.5% plus" of the total territory it previously held in Syria and Iraq, and crucially added, "within a couple of weeks, it will be 100%."
"ISIS is no longer able to govern in Syria, ISIS no longer has freedom to mass forces," Shanahan said, adding that:
"Syria is no longer a safe haven."
However, this still didn't stop CNN from seizing upon those sections of the report that speak to the potential of an underground ISIS insurgency looking to conduct global terror attacks. CNN's commentary said:
Despite repeated claims by the Trump administration that ISIS has been defeated, US intelligence assesses that the terror group "very likely will continue to pursue external attacks from Iraq and Syria against regional and Western adversaries, including the United States."
Yet CNN's interpretation contradicts the intelligence assessment's findings that Assad remains at war with ISIS remnants and the terror insurgency.
Contradicting the CNN report, CNS News has it right in simply concluding of the DNI's testimony that "Assad will continue to fight ISIS, America’s enemy, while leaving America’s allies alone":
"The remaining pockets of ISIS and opposition fighters will continue, we agree — we assess, to stoke violence as we have seen in incidents happening in the Idlib province of Syria. The regime will focus on re-taking territory while seeking to avoid conflict with Israel and Turkey."
So, according to Coats, Assad will continue to fight ISIS, America’s enemy, while leaving America’s allies alone.
Meanwhile both the hawks in Washington and mainstream media will always attempt to point out that ISIS terrorists exist somewhere on the globe — true enough given the proliferation of the jihadi "brand" that any loner or extremist movement can claim at any time.
While acknowledging Assad and the Syrian Army's intent to "regain control over all of the Syrian territory" DNI Coats' comments reflected this permanent "war on terror" emphasis tirelessly touted by beltway hawks: "ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria," he said as part of his Senate testimony. But acknowledging that ISIS is now an 'underground' phenomenon, he described the terror group as having "returned to its guerrilla warfare roots while continuing to plot attacks and direct its supporters worldwide."
But like the ever present, pervasive and much hyped al-Qaeda/bin Laden threat of the Bush administration years, the post-9/11 playbook has been to push indefinite military deployments in "forever wars" based on the mere possibility that a terror threat persists somewhere out there. It's simply a formula for endless occupation of the Middle East and a runaway defense budget.
It seems based on recent polls showing a majority of Americans support Trump's Syria withdrawal that voters are tired of this tactic, and can indeed increasingly see through it.