ISIS threat to spread if Turkey invades northern Syria
BEIRUT : A Turkish invasion of northeast Syria could spark a resurgence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, analysts and Kurdish forces warned, despite Ankara's pledge to prevent the jihadists' return.
Ankara has threatened an offensive in Syria against Kurdish militias it considers terrorists. US forces on Monday pulled back from Turkish border areas, opening the way for an invasion President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said could come at any moment.
An open assault would reverse years of successful Kurdish-led operations to defeat ISIS and allow some of its surviving leaders to come out of hiding, said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish militia that controls much of north-eastern Syria.
With little other leverage left in the regional game, Mr Sam Heller of the International Crisis Group think tank told AFP, the SDF has an "interest" in warning of an ISIS threat if open conflict breaks out.
"But the fact is that ISIS is still a threat, one that seems likely to metastasise if the SDF is forced to divert attention and resources... to a defensive battle against Turkey," he said.
While a Kurdish-led operation earlier this year ended the ISIS territorial caliphate, the organisation is not dead and sleeper cells have been active in SDF-held areas and in Syria's vast desert, where they continue to hit regime forces with deadly attacks and ambushes.
Mr Charles Lister, director of the US-based Middle East Institute, said US President Donald Trump was "granting ISIS the gift of rebirth".
The US military itself has warned that, short of sustained international pressure, ISIS would soon have the ability to regroup.
"The battle against ISIS is not over," Mr Abdulkarim Omar, the top Kurdish foreign affairs official, told AFP on Monday. "There are hundreds of sleeper cells in recently liberated areas," he said.
The Kurds have consistently warned that they would be unable to guard ISIS fighters if their forces were busy fighting off a Turkish offensive.- AFP