On July 12, a U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria killed the leader of ISIS in Syria, Maher al Agal, and seriously injured another senior leader. The strike is the latest blow against ISIS, which is under significant pressure from U.S., Iraqi, Syrian, and Turkish counterterrorism operations. At least five top leaders have been captured or killed since October 2021, whittling away at the core cadre. President Biden’s statement on the operation rightly praises the diligent work of the U.S. military and intelligence community in degrading ISIS capabilities. But he adds the strike “also demonstrates that the United States does not require thousands of troops in combat missions to identify and eliminate threats to our country.”
The problem, Mr. President, is that Syria is not Afghanistan.
America’s ability to target terrorists in Syria has never been in question, but nearly one year after the calamitous withdrawal, whether the United States can keep the terrorism threat from Afghanistan in check is. The veiled defense of the White House’s so-called “over-the-horizon” posture for Afghanistan ignores key differences between the two countries.
The over-the-horizon counterterrorism approach that the White House touts for Afghanistan replaces on-the-ground human networks with signals and satellite intelligence to know what terrorists are planning and where they are operating and relies on drone strikes instead of special forces to target terrorists. While U.S. capabilities are exquisite, the approach inherently makes counterterrorism operations more difficult. Afghanistan’s remoteness and the absence of any regional U.S. bases or robust counterterrorism partnerships adds to the challenge.