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Despite Trump Rhetoric, Islamic State Is Still A Threat To America (#GotBitcoin?)

The bombing comes a month after President Trump announced a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria. Despite Trump Rhetoric, Islamic State Is Still A Threat To America

A bombing in Syria claimed by Islamic State killed at least four Americans on Wednesday, according to the Pentagon, reigniting a debate in Washington over President Trump’s plan to withdraw troops from the country.

Allied fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces and a number of civilians were also among the 19 dead in the attack in the northern city of Manbij, which is under the control of the U.S.-backed SDF, according to local media and the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Other Americans may have been among the wounded, U.S. officials said.

Despite Trump Rhetoric, Islamic State Is Still A Threat To America (#GotBitcoin?)
An Image Grab Taken From A Video Shows U.S. Troops Gathered At The Scene Of The Attack On Wednesday.

Two of the Americans killed in the blast were U.S. service members while a third was a civilian Defense Department employee, the Pentagon said. The fourth American killed was a contractor supporting the U.S. effort in Syria, it said. Officials earlier believed three Americans were killed and that all were military service members.

The White House expressed “sympathies and love” to the families of those killed. “Our service members and their families have all sacrificed so much for our country,” the White House said.

The bombing comes a month after Mr. Trump announced a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria and said on Twitter, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

The president subsequently walked back that assessment, saying the U.S. was starting the pullout “while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard,” amid concerns that the withdrawal could allow the militants to resurge.

The U.S. has already begun to withdraw some equipment from Syria but the timeline of the withdrawal remains uncertain as U.S. officials try to ensure that America’s Kurdish partners in Syria won’t be targeted when U.S. forces leave.

U.S. forces in Syria were conducting a routine patrol in the area on Wednesday when the bombing occurred, said Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State.

U.S. officials couldn’t say whether Americans were specifically targeted in the attack. Service members in Manbij are among more than 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria training, advising and assisting local units fighting Islamic State.

One U.S. official described an attack involving both bombs and small arms fire, and a local official said it took place at a popular local restaurant called Qasr, or Palace, where coalition forces have been known to go to occasionally.

Islamic State released two brief statements through Amaq, its media arm, claiming that the attack by a suicide bomber targeted a coalition patrol, killing or injuring nine U.S. soldiers, according to SITE Intelligence. U.S. military officials said they hadn’t confirmed that Islamic State was behind the attack.

Following the attack, a number of lawmakers called on Mr. Trump to reconsider his decision to withdraw, saying the attack pointed to the continued danger posed by Islamic State.

“I strongly urge the president to forcefully respond and ensure we do not withdraw our troops until ISIS is completely destroyed,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R., S.C.), an ally of Mr. Trump who has expressed concern about the withdrawal plan, urged the president to “look long and hard” at his decision, which he said he feared would rally extremists while deflating U.S. partners in Syria. Mr. Graham said he believes he was at the restaurant where the attack took place during a visit to Syria last year.

“Every American wants our troops to come home,” he said at a Senate hearing. “But I think all of us want to make sure that, when they do come home, we’re safe.”

“I know people are frustrated,” Mr. Graham said. “But we’re never going to be safe here unless we’re willing to help people over there who are willing to stand up against this radical ideology.”

The administration on Wednesday held to the view that Islamic State has been defeated and that the troop withdrawal is going forward. Vice President Mike Pence praised Mr. Trump’s decision in a speech to senior State Department officials delivered following the attack and said the U.S. was now able to hand off the fight to allies and pursue an “orderly and effective” exit from Syria.

Despite Trump Rhetoric, Islamic State Is Still A Threat To America (#GotBitcoin?)
This Frame Grab From A Video Shows A Damaged Restaurant In Manbij, Syria.

Mr. Pence in the speech made no mention to the U.S. soldiers’ deaths. A spokeswoman for Mr. Pence didn’t immediately comment on that decision.

Afterward, Mr. Pence issued a statement saying he and Mr. Trump condemned the attack and said, “Our hearts are with the loved ones of the fallen.” He added that “we have crushed the ISIS caliphate and devastated its capabilities.”

At the Pentagon, Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan told reporters: “Today is a stark reminder of the dangerous missions that men and women in uniform perform on our behalf each and every day.”

He didn’t respond to a question about whether the attack would affect the troop withdrawal.

Mr. Trump’s backers said the U.S. should press forward with the withdrawal plan. In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the attack may have been aimed at dissuading the U.S. from pulling out, but said that he was confident in Mr. Trump’s resolve to leave the country.

“Because I saw Mr. Trump’s determination to withdraw, I do not think he will stand back after this terrorist incident. Standing back would mean a victory for Islamic State,” Mr. Erdogan said.

The U.S. military began conducting airstrikes against Islamic State in 2014, sending U.S. ground forces in 2015. Working with local partners, U.S. troops helped regain control back of extremist-controlled areas territories and trained local forces.

The militant group, which at its height controlled swaths of territory across parts of Syria and Iraq, has lost the vast majority of the areas it once held. But as the group has lost ground it has increasingly turned to guerrilla-style attacks, using suicide attacks and sleeper cells to target civilians and those fighting it.

Before Wednesday, two American service members had been killed in action in Syria: Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Cooper Dayton was killed in November 2016 in an explosion near Ayn Issa, Syria, and Army Master Sgt. Jonathan J. Dunbar was killed in March 2018 by a roadside bomb in Manbij.

A British member of the anti-Islamic State coalition also was killed in the 2018 roadside bomb. Two other American service members have been killed taking part in non-combat duties.

Manbij has been the focus of intense wrangling. Turkey has threatened to attack the city if the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia doesn’t withdraw. The YPG is an offshoot of the separatist PKK, which has waged a decadeslong insurgency in Turkey and which both Turkey and the U.S. have designated a terrorist group. But the U.S. distinguishes between the PKK and the YPG, the main component of the SDF, which has helped the U.S.-led coalition fight Islamic State.

Meanwhile, the Syrian regime and its main military backer Russia have nearby outposts and have inched closer to the city after the YPG asked the Syrian government for protection from a possible Turkish attack. With the U.S. beginning its withdrawal from Syria, the Kurdish forces are expected to strike a deal with the Assad government.

Islamic State Again Attacks U.S. Troops in Syria

Despite Trump Rhetoric, Islamic State Is Still A Threat To America (#GotBitcoin?)
Kurdish Fighters Standing Guard At The Site Of A Suicide Attack Monday Near Shaddadeh In Syria’s Northeastern Province Of Hassakeh.

Second such suicide bombing claimed by extremist group in less than a week; U.S. military says no American casualties in latest attack.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing targeting U.S.-led coalition forces in Syria in its second such attack in days, highlighting the threat the extremist group still poses as it reverts to a guerrilla-style insurgency after losing most of its territory.

The suicide bomber on Monday drove a car rigged with explosives into a convoy of U.S. troops and local fighters at a checkpoint in Hasakeh province, Islamic State said in a statement carried by the group’s media arm, Amaq.

The coalition confirmed the attack via Twitter and said there were no U.S. casualties. “We will continue to review the situation and provide updates as appropriate,” the coalition said.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said on its website there were no deaths or injuries in the suicide attack, adding it resulted only in material damage on the joint convoy.

The U.K.-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, however, that the attack resulted in the death of five SDF fighters and injured two American soldiers.

If Islamic State is confirmed to be behind the attack, it would be the latest example of the group’s turn toward guerilla tactics and its continued targeting of American troops and their local allies, even as the U.S. prepares to withdraw from Syria under orders from President Trump.

On Wednesday, four Americans were among more than a dozen killed in an Islamic State-claimed suicide bombing in the northern city of Manbij, the deadliest day for the U.S. in Syria. Those killed included two U.S. military service members, a civilian Defense Department employee and a Pentagon contractor.

Monday’s attack took place more than 200 miles east of Manbij, the site of Wednesday’s bombing.

As Islamic State loses the last remnants of its once vast self-declared caliphate, it has reverted to the individual attacks it used in its early days to strike targets and sow fear.

The U.S.-backed forces, meanwhile, have continued to advance on the ground. The Observatory reported on Monday that nearly 3,000 people fled the terror group’s shrinking pocket on the Syrian-Iraqi border on Sunday night and through the day. Among them were 200 Islamic State militants who surrendered themselves to U.S.-backed forces late Sunday.

In the wake of last week’s bombing, U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces vowed to escalate their military operations against the terror group and root out its sleeper cells.

But attacks like the one last week and on Monday indicate that Islamic State is still capable of carrying out sophisticated strikes requiring military intelligence. Wednesday’s attack targeted a meeting between coalition forces and locals at a restaurant that was frequented by coalition troops and even visiting American politicians.

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