Small Wars Journal

At Turning Point in Insurgent Wars, U.S. General Cautions Against Disengaging from Fragile States

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 4:38am

At Turning Point in Insurgent Wars, U.S. General Cautions Against Disengaging from Fragile States by Missy Ryan – Washington Post

Four years, nine months, billions of dollars and tens of thousands of allied fighters’ lives. As the U.S.-backed Syrian forces declared a triumphant end last weekend to the battle against the Islamic State, Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, took a mental inventory.


Millions of Iraqi and Syrian civilians have died or been displaced in the conflict, which erupted less than three years after Washington declared victory in a previous insurgent war. U.S. combat casualties stand at 14. From that grim tabulation, Votel drew one central conclusion: America cannot afford to take its counterterrorism gains for granted.


“I think that the lesson learned from that is we really have to be very careful when we step away from our interests, and if we try to do it too quickly — that’s the cost,” he said in an interview from Centcom headquarters on the eve of his retirement.


The closure of the campaign to eliminate the extremist group’s so-called caliphate coincides with the end of Votel’s nearly 40-year military career, half of which was spent immersed in the counterinsurgency operations that have consumed the Pentagon’s attention since 2001. Like other Centcom leaders before him, he steps down at a moment when the militant threat, while seemingly abated, remains unvanquished and political objectives elusive.


He spoke as the Pentagon prepares to reduce its troop presence in Syria in keeping with orders from President Trump, who has sought to end U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. While national security leaders appear to have secured permission to continue ground operations for some period of time in Syria as they have in Afghanistan, how long those counterterrorism missions will continue remains in doubt…

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