The tragic deaths of U.S. troops in northern Syria on Wednesday underscore how wrong — dead wrong — President Donald Trump was in declaring Islamic State's defeat to justify the withdrawal of 2,000 American troops from Syria. Advisers who are much better informed and experienced at military strategy than Trump warned the president repeatedly he was making the wrong move, but because he is driven more by ego than common sense, Trump overruled them.
The blood of those troops is on Trump's hands. He violated his own long-stated rule about never telegraphing his military intentions to America's enemies. He repeatedly criticized President Barack Obama during the 2016 presidential campaign for being too open with America's deployment and attack plans. Trump insisted he was smarter — even smarter than the generals in charge of America's fighting forces — and that he would be far more secretive about his plans in order to keep the enemy guessing.
"I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me," he stated at a 2016 campaign rally in Iowa, referring to the Islamic State.
In 2017, he told Fox News, "I don't want to telegraph what I'm doing, or what I'm thinking. I'm not like other administrations, where they say we're going to do this in four weeks and that. It doesn't work that way." The backdrop for Trump's earlier criticisms about not telegraphing military movements was the series of attacks on U.S. troops as they withdrew from Iraq in 2011.
Yet he announced to the world in December, via Twitter, that he was ordering all U.S. forces to withdraw from Syria — prompting the abrupt resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a retired Marine general with extensive experience fighting Islamist radicals.
Trump has carried out the early stages of the withdrawal in such a public fashion that civilians have been able to stand on the roadside in northern Syria and witness the convoys of U.S. heavy equipment being withdrawn. They apparently weren't the only ones watching.
Despite Trump's dubious assertion that Islamic State is defeated, the group is believed to still have around 15,000 fighters in Syria. Its leaders are known to be media-savvy and keep close tabs on what U.S. politicians are saying. It's safe to assume they knew of Trump's comments and have been waiting to deliver an embarrassing blow to make clear that they're still a force to be reckoned with.
Vice President Mike Pence either was late to get the message about the Syria attack or he shrugged it off, declaring Wednesday at a State Department conference, "The (Islamic State) caliphate has crumbled, and ISIS has been defeated." Such goading remarks serve no purpose but to invite an Islamic State response.
The tragedy is that U.S. troops had to pay with their lives for this administration's incompetence.
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