“We can probably reduce those forces,” he said, referring to the 2,200 US soldiers deployed there.
“What is really crucial,” he continued, is “control of the airspace in eastern Syria.”
“That doesn’t require a lot of people on the ground,” Keane added.
“But it requires some because it’s not going to be effective if you can’t direct it from the ground.”
“This is all about US air power, British air power, and French air power,” he concluded, “primarily strike fighter aircraft precision bombing, directed from the ground.”
Of course, that would create conditions similar to those prevailing in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, which led to the emergence of the Kurdistan Region and what has now become 28 years of Kurdish self-government.
Turkey has voiced strong objection to anything similar in Syria.
Keane explained that his understanding of the prospects for a resurgence of the Islamic State—six to twelve months—was, in fact, the estimate of Gen.
Joseph Votel, the outgoing CENTCOM commander.
Votel is on a tour of his area of command to bid farewell to his counterparts and thank them for their cooperation and support.
On Monday, Votel told journalists traveling with him that there are "tens of thousands" of Islamic State fighters still in Syria and Iraq.
“They are dispersed and disaggregated, but there is leadership, there are fighters there, there are facilitators there," he said.
He affirmed that US troops would leave Syria, but he would not give a timeline.
There was very little difference between what Keane and Votel said, as one would expect, because, almost certainly, they are in regular communication.
Being retired, however, Keane has more freedom to speak and offer his opinions, and he was more expansive.
Keane explained on Saturday that the Islamic State has been “preparing for some time” this “Phase II” of its operations.
“They knew they were going to lose that territory when the United States committed to take it away from them,” he said.
“They’ve been organizing and preparing to put their efforts into a terrorist network in Iraq,” Keane added.
“Fifteen assassinations a month, right now in Iraq,” along with regular vehicle bombings and suicide bombings, and “they’re preparing for that in Syria,” as well.
“There’s close to 30,000 of them left,” he continued, “because they did not fight to the death” in Mosul, Ramadi, or even Raqqa.
“Many were killed,” but they preserved “virtually half” of their fighters “for this phase.”
Most likely, the vast bulk of the remaining 30,000 men are local forces, from Iraq and Syria, as it would be difficult to conceal significant numbers of foreign fighters in the Arab communities now liberated from Islamic State control.
In October 2017, Keane also strongly criticized the Trump administration, after it turned a blind eye to the Iraqi-Iranian assault on Kirkuk, following the Kurdistan independence referendum.
Reportedly, the White House relied on Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy to the Defeat ISIS coalition, who failed to inform it of Tehran’s prominent role in the planned attack.