ISIS Attack in Syria Kills 4 Americans, Raising New Worries About Troop Withdrawal
WASHINGTON — Four Americans were among 19 people killed in Syria on Wednesday in a suicide bombing that was claimed by the Islamic State, just weeks after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of United States forces and declared that the extremist group had been defeated.
The attack targeted an American military convoy in the northern city of Manbij while troops were inside the Palace of the Princes, a restaurant where they often stopped to eat during patrols, residents said. While the Americans were inside, a nearby suicide attacker wearing an explosive vest blew himself up.
The bombing raised new questions about Mr. Trump’s surprise decision last month to end the American ground war in Syria. Critics of the president’s plans, including members of his own party, said Mr. Trump’s claim of victory over the Islamic State may have emboldened its fighters and encouraged Wednesday’s strike.
It was at least the sixth major attack by the Islamic State in less than a month, according to one United States official, and was one of the deadliest days that the American-led coalition had suffered in the fight against the group.
Mr. Trump’s withdrawal announcement, made over the objections of his top national security officials, “set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we’re fighting,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a prominent Trump ally who has nonetheless criticized the military drawdown.
“I saw this in Iraq. And I’m now seeing it in Syria,” Mr. Graham said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.
Even as the White House offered condolences over the deaths, Vice President Mike Pence insisted in a statement that the Islamic State had, in fact, been defeated.
“Thanks to the courage of our armed forces, we have crushed the ISIS caliphate and devastated its capabilities,” Mr. Pence said. “As we begin to bring our troops home, the American people can be assured, for the sake of our soldiers, their families and our nation, we will never allow the remnants of ISIS to re-establish their evil and murderous caliphate — not now, not ever.”
There are about 2,000 American troops in Syria. Patrick M. Shanahan, the acting defense secretary, declined to comment when asked if the attack would affect the withdrawal plans.
The American casualties included two service members, a civilian employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency and a military contractor, according to the United States Central Command and a Pentagon official. Three other service members were wounded.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll from the explosion at 19 — 10 Syrian civilians and five local fighters in addition to the four Americans.
Surveillance footage posted on social media showed a street with cars double-parked in front of the restaurant and pedestrians on the sidewalk. Then came the blast, consuming the sidewalk in a giant fireball and sending passers-by running for cover.
A statement from the Islamic State, released through its Amaq news agency, said that the suicide attacker detonated his explosive vest to target a patrol of coalition soldiers and local militiamen near the restaurant in Manbij.
The city has been ruled by nearly all sides fighting in the Syrian civil war that broke out in 2011. The United States began deploying troops to fight the Islamic State in Syria in 2015; a year later, an American-backed militia of Kurdish and Arab fighters ousted the extremists from Manbij.
Since then, Manbij has largely been governed and protected by American-backed local councils. While the city is hundreds of miles from any territory held by the Islamic State, it sits next to areas controlled by Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies. American forces maintain a number of bases near Manbij and run frequent patrols.
The bombing on Wednesday puts Mr. Trump in a tough position: He has long promised to pull the forces out, but also threatened in a Twitter message on Sunday to hit the Islamic State again, and “hard,” if the group lashed out.