US leader President Donald Trump declared total victory against ISIS too early in March as reports by US and Iraqi intelligence indicate that the group is far from being buried.
On Wednesday, Trump himself admitted the resurgence of the group but now said other countries will need to take up the fight.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also acknowledged on Tuesday that ISIS was gaining strength in some areas but said the group’s capacity to conduct attacks has been greatly diminished.
This following shocking report by New York Times paints the new strength of the dreaded group:
Five months after American-backed forces ousted ISIS from its last shard of territory in Syria, the terrorist group is gathering new strength, conducting guerrilla attacks across Iraq and Syria, retooling its financial networks and targeting new recruits at an allied-run tent camp, American and Iraqi military and intelligence officers said. Though President Trump hailed a total defeat of ISIS this year, defense officials in the region see things differently, acknowledging that what remains of the terrorist group is here to stay.
A recent inspector general’s report warned that a drawdown this year from 2,000 American forces in Syria to less than half of that, ordered by Mr. Trump, has meant the American military has had to cut back support for Syrian partner forces fighting ISIS. For now, American and international forces can only try to ensure that ISIS remains contained and away from urban areas.
Although there is little concern that ISIS will reclaim its former physical territory, a caliphate that was once the size of Britain and controlled the lives of up to 12 million people, the terrorist group has still mobilized as many as 18,000 remaining fighters in Iraq and Syria. These sleeper cells and strike teams have carried out sniper attacks, ambushes, kidnappings and assassinations against security forces and community leaders. ISIS can still tap a large war chest of as much as $400 million, which has been hidden in either Iraq and Syria or smuggled into neighboring countries for safekeeping.
It is also believed to have invested in businesses, including fish farming, car dealing, and cannabis growing. And ISIS uses extortion to finance clandestine operations: Farmers in northern Iraq who refuse to pay have had their crops burned to the ground.
Over the past several months, ISIS has made inroads into a sprawling tent camp in northeast Syria, and there is no ready plan to deal with the 70,000 people there, including thousands of family members of ISIS fighters.
American intelligence officials say the Al Hol camp, managed by Syrian Kurdish allies with little aid or security, is evolving into a hotbed of ISIS ideology and a huge breeding ground for future terrorists. The American-backed Syrian Kurdish force also holds more than 10,000 ISIS fighters, including 2,000 foreigners, in separate makeshift prisons.
Despite these reports, Mr. Trump has continued to claim credit for completely defeating ISIS, contradicting repeated warnings from his own intelligence and counterterrorism officials that ISIS remains a lethal force. “We did a great job,” Mr. Trump said last month. “We have 100 percent of the caliphate, and we’re rapidly pulling out of Syria. We’ll be out of there pretty soon. And let them handle their own problems. Syria can handle their own problems — along with Iran, along with Russia, along with Iraq, along with Turkey. We’re 7,000 miles away.”
With 5,200 troops in Iraq and just under 1,000 in Syria, the American military’s role in both countries has changed little despite the territorial defeat of ISIS in both countries. After the fall of Baghuz, ISIS’ last holdout in Syria near the Iraqi border, what remained of the group’s fighters dispersed throughout the region, starting what American officials now say will be an enduring insurgency. ISIS is well equipped, the officials said, though its leadership is mostly fractured, leaving most cells without guidance from higher-ranking commanders.
Also gone is ISIS’ heyday, when the group could mass-produce roadside bombs, munitions, and homemade weapons. ISIS’ change in tactics has forced the Americans and other international troops to change theirs, ensuring they can fight a guerilla-style campaign against insurgents who fight among and disappear into local populations. The Iraqi Army and its counterterrorism forces have run multiple campaigns against ISIS, focusing primarily on the triangle where Kirkuk, Nineveh and Salahuddin Provinces come together in a rocky and hilly area known as the Makhoul mountains.
Though ISIS fighters are present, the pace of operations in Syria has dropped significantly. Army Special Forces soldiers, alongside conventional troops, often sit on their outposts for long stretches of time and only occasionally go after the low-ranking ISIS fighters hiding in nearby villages, according to one defense official who recently returned from the country. One of the greatest challenges, the official said, was the constant ferrying of American troops to and from Syria in an effort to keep the overall troop presence at the military’s official deployment of just under 1,000. Sometimes, the official said, troops are brought into the country for specific missions and then sent out.
“Coupled with a US drawdown, it’s setting the conditions for ISIS to retake pockets of territory while coercing local populations,” said Colin P. Clarke, a senior fellow at the Soufan Center, a research organization for global security issues and an author of a new study by the RAND Corporation on ISIS’ financing.