Combined forces participate in a live fire exercise at Camp Taji, Iraq, in August.

Combined forces participate in a live fire exercise at Camp Taji, Iraq, in August. Spc. Audrey Ward/U.S. Army

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U.S.-Backed Forces in Iraq, Syria May Face Challenges for Years

Latest report by three inspectors general details weakness in anti-ISIS effort.

The Pentagon has warned its inspector general that Iraqi Security Forces the United States is counting on to stabilize parts of Iraq and Syria formerly controlled by ISIS “would need years, if not decades” to become self-reliant.

That latest report (covering July 1 through Sept. 30) from the watchdogs for the departments of Defense and State along with the U.S. Agency for International Development also said the continuing civil war in Syria could prolong U.S. commitments in the region.

“Congressional appropriations to support the DoD’s fight against ISIS decreased in fiscal 2019” by 23 percent, said the report released on Monday. The State Department “reprogrammed $230 million in U.S. stabilization funds initially earmarked for Syria to support stabilization efforts in other countries.”

A compilation of 23 audit and inspection reports, the quarterly report produced by the Pentagon IG—the lead auditor of the war-zone effort—said that Iraq’s security forces continued to exhibit systemic weaknesses, including “poor intelligence fusion, operational insecurity, ongoing corruption and overly centralized leadership.”

The Islamic terrorist group ISIS, according to U.S. and United Nations analysis, “has largely evolved from a land-holding terrorist entity to an insurgency with a network of clandestine cells” in pockets of territory east of the Euphrates River, the report said. “DoD stated that U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces face a difficult fight against ISIS” because “clearing terrorists from remote and largely ungoverned terrain is a slow and difficult process.”

The business-like report highlighted an apparent contradiction in Trump administration policy. “National Security Adviser John Bolton stated that U.S. forces would remain in Syria as long as Iranian and Iranian-proxy forces remain outside of Iran, while the DoD stated that its basis for its presence in Syria remains the 'enduring defeat’ of ISIS,’ ” it noted.

Military leaders recently testified that the troop deployment in Syria provided “residual benefits” to U.S. diplomats seeking to end the civil war,” providing “leverage” that could facilitate a political resolution that removes Iran from Syria.

In a setback, the United States this summer temporarily suspended operations at the U.S. Consulate in Basrah as Iran increased threats against U.S. personnel, the report said. “Street protests had turned violent as well.” About 1.9 million Iraqis remain displaced, and ethnic and religious minorities such as the Christian and Yazidi populations remain vulnerable.

The State Department watchdog criticized the Iraq forces for “heavy-handed counterinsurgency tactics and for civilian deaths, which those organizations said engender popular anger and create obstacles to the effective stabilization of liberated areas.” Judges in liberated areas continued to try cases against suspected ISIS members en masse, to the dismay of human rights organizations.

The IG for USAID has investigated diversion of U.S.-supplied commodities to terrorist groups in northwest Syria, and one non-governmental organization employee was terminated while two resigned after being exposed as sympathetic to the terrorists. The USAID watchdog has been conducting outreach to raise awareness of potential fraud.

The Defense investigations into bad procurements and export violations this quarter resulted in one criminal charge, three personnel actions, one suspension, six debarments and 13 administrative actions, the report said.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control blocked access to the U.S. financial and commercial systems to 13 persons in a network for procuring electronics on behalf of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, the agency responsible for development of Syria’s chemical weapons.