WASHINGTON (AP) – A suicide bombing claimed by Islamic State (IS) militants killed at least 16 people, including two US service members and two American civilians, in northern Syria on Wednesday, just a month after President Donald Trump declared that IS had been defeated and he was pulling out US forces.
The attack in the strategic northeastern town of Manbij highlighted the threat posed by the Islamic State group despite Trump’s claims.
It could also complicate what had already become a messy withdrawal plan, with the President’s senior advisers disagreeing with the decision and then offering an evolving timetable for the removal of the approximately 2,000 US troops.
The attack, which also wounded three US troops, was the deadliest assault on US troops in Syria since American forces went into the country in 2015.
The dead included a number of fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have fought alongside the Americans against the IS group, according to officials and the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
According to a US official, one of the US civilians killed was an intelligence specialist working for the Defence Intelligence Agency. The other was an interpreter, who was a contractor.
The attack prompted new complaints about the withdrawal and underscored Pentagon assertions that IS is still a threat and capable of deadly attacks.
In a December 19 tweet announcing the withdrawal, Trump said, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” He said the troops would begin coming home “now.” That plan triggered immediate pushback from military leaders, including the resignation of the defence secretary. Over the past month, however, Trump and others have appeared to adjust the timeline, and US officials have suggested it will likely take several months to safely withdraw American forces from Syria.