The U.S. Is Beating Back ISIS, So What Comes Next? : Parallels The U.S. military and its allies have largely defeated the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. Now comes the tricky part: finding political solutions in both of those troubled countries.
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The U.S. Is Beating Back ISIS, So What Comes Next?

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The U.S. Is Beating Back ISIS, So What Comes Next?

The U.S. Is Beating Back ISIS, So What Comes Next?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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President Trump said he was going to let his generals manage the fight against the Islamic State, and he's pretty much done that. The United States and its coalition partners dropped more than 5,000 bombs in Syria and Iraq combined in August, and that's the highest number for one month since the air campaign began three years ago. But as ISIS loses territory, the Trump administration has to decide what comes next.

Here's NPR national security correspondent, Greg Myre.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Here's an eyewitness account from the front-lines of the Syrian war in Raqqa, where the U.S. and its allies are pounding the Islamic State in its last major stronghold.

GAYLE LEMMON: What we saw in Raqqa was absolute devastation, and we met families who fled ISIS and got caught in the coalition airstrikes.

MYRE: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is with the Council on Foreign Relations. She says the stories from her visit in August were harrowing, including one woman's tale in particular.

LEMMON: She was eight months pregnant when she walked out of Raqqa City, and I asked her what she thought of the coalition airstrikes. And she said, you know, anything that gets rid of ISIS, if that's what it takes, then so be it. But it is really terrifying to see what civilians are facing.

MYRE: The U.S. campaign in Syria has parallels in Iraq where in July the Americans and their partners pushed ISIS out of its last major city, which raises the question...

LEMMON: What happens next? What comes next after ISIS is defeated on the battlefield?

MYRE: President Trump pledged more airstrikes against Islamist radicals, more freedom for U.S. military commanders to act and no more nation building. Check, check and check. That's the military mission. But what about the political plan?

ANDREW BACEVICH: The issue here is we ain't got no strategy that ties everything together.

MYRE: Retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich is a prominent military historian. He served in Vietnam. His son also served and was killed in Iraq.

BACEVICH: What's absent is the strategy, any clear understanding of how additional military effort is going to produce a political outcome.

MYRE: This has been a recurring problem, and it precedes Trump. The U.S. military makes gains, but they're lost without a coherent political solution. Brett McGurk is Trump's envoy in the battle against ISIS. He says the U.S. won't be walking away in Syria.


BRETT MCGURK: We do feel we have a responsibility to focus on the follow through on stabilization - demining, rubble removal, water, electricity, the basics.

MYRE: Yet even that could prove difficult. In Syria and Iraq, the U.S. has partnered with Kurdish fighters who now want a greater political role. Syrian President Bashar Assad also has his eye on territory the Kurds have taken from ISIS.

Here's Brett McGurk again.


MCGURK: When you go to Syria, nobody in these areas wants the Damascus government to return - meaning, flags, army. That would be, I think, something that would not be stabilizing.

MYRE: And in Iraq, the Kurds voted overwhelmingly in favor of a referendum calling for independence. The U.S. and Iraqi governments both oppose this move.


MCGURK: The referendum just carries an awful lot of risks, and that's not something the United States can control.

MYRE: So while the military fight against ISIS may be in the final stages, the political challenges in Iraq and Syria are not.

Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington.


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