As U.S. forces make a grab for the exit from Syria in a hurry, reports and video coming in suggest they are dumping equipment and leaving bases intact while stripping sensitive items.
And that could create a problem for any future efforts to fight the Islamic State, said one Marine veteran who went on to fight with the Syrian Democratic Forces after leaving the Corps.
As the U.S. abandons camps across Syria, it appears U.S. troops are removing sensitive equipment, but leaving fortifications that could present a later challenge for fighters in the region.
“I see a big problem with it. And it shows just how unplanned and half-assed this “withdrawal” is,” said Marine veteran Anderson Bryant, who fought with the SDF as it liberated Manbij from ISIS fighters in 2016.
Should ISIS fighters capture one these bases, it could be costly for SDF fighters unaided by American air power and artillery to storm the outpost.
“It wouldn’t be easy but it wouldn’t be the worst attack in the world,” Bryant said. “The SDF have been successfully taking territory and bases from ISIS for three years now. They’ve gotten pretty good at it.”
Regardless of what you call it, the withdrawal makes for bad optics, Bryant said.
“Though ISIS doesn’t have the infrastructure to take and hold territory or bases anymore, just leaving equipment to be taken after a retreat looks bad for sure," he said.
A video posted to Twitter shows Russians entering what’s described as a U.S. camp in Manbij, Syria. Col. Myles B. Caggins III, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, announced Tuesday that the U.S. had pulled its forces out of the Syrian city.
The video shows an empty base with tents still setup and Hesco barrier fortifications surrounding the camp.
Reuters reported Wednesday, citing Russian state TV, that Syrian forces in northeast Syria have taken over abandoned U.S. camps in the region.
Some members of U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces claimed that U.S. forces have been blowing up vehicles as they vacated their bases. The Pentagon and OIR have yet to respond to media queries detailing what equipment, if any is being destroyed as U.S. forces scramble to leave Syria.
Emergency equipment destruction procedures often fall under various unit standard operating procedures.
The U.S. is in the midst of rapidly withdrawing about 1,000 U.S. troops from northeastern Syria. Those forces are expected to redeploy within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, according to military officials.
The last time U.S. forces may have made a “deliberate withdrawal” from a warzone appears to be Iraq in 2011.
“What we’re executing is a deliberate plan to safely and responsibly withdraw from Iraq by Dec. 31,” then Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Spoehr said in a 2011 CENTCOM news release. “This plan is flexible enough to account for change – no plan should be so rigid that it cannot account for adverse weather or enemy activity – but it’s a methodical and measured plan.”
The U.S. pullout of Iraq in 2011 precipitated the rise of ISIS.
A senior U.S. defense official told reporters Tuesday that U.S. forces would continue the defeat ISIS fight from Iraq.
Turkey launched military operations Oct. 9 to rout U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters it believes are terrorists from northern Syria.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.