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DOD report: 14,000 to 18,000 ISIS terrorists still remain a threat in Iraq and Syria

An ISIS fighter carries the Islamic State flag. (Wikipedia/Released)
May 15, 2020

Between 14,000 and 18,000 ISIS terrorists still remain in Iraq and Syria, according to a quarterly report from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Lead Inspector General quarterly report to the U.S. Congress on Operation Inherent Resolve shows that the damage done to ISIS during President Donald Trump’s tenure has left the terrorists scattered, as they have lost most of their control in the region. The report, publicly released on Monday, confirms previous reports that, although the Trump administration has severely weakened ISIS, they are still operative.

“We are seeing ISIS come back as an insurgency, as a terrorist operation, with some 14,000 to 18,000 terrorists between Syria and Iraq,” said the U.S. Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Ambassador James Jeffrey, in January. Jeffrey also stated that the United States did not plan to withdraw its troops from Syria “in the near future.”

Previous reports have also concluded that ISIS is recruiting more members, despite losing much of its territory under the Trump administration.

A Kurdish leader who witnessed the militant group’s first rise and fall has also said that the terrorist group has doubled its number of fighters. Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, said that ISIS has 20,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria and is actively recruiting more.

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“ISIS is still very much intact,” Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, said in the interview. “Yes, they have lost much of their leadership. They have lost many of their capable men. But they’ve also managed to gain more experience and to recruit more people around them. So they should not be taken lightly.”

The IG report, which covers the period January 1, 2020, through March 31, 2020, also noted that Iraqi Security Forces have paused training activities and Syrian Democratic Forces have paused operations against ISIS in response to the global coronavirus pandemic.

ISIS has responded by exploiting the pandemic and is seeking to regain lost territory. The terrorist group has increased its attacks as Iraqi forces have diverted resources to enforce a curfew aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus, CNN reported May 7.

Although the number of attacks from ISIS has risen lately, the levels are about the same as where they were in 2019, Lt. Gen. Pat White told reporters.

“The pure numbers (of attacks) are very consistent with last year exact same time,” he said.

ISIS committed 115 attacks in April 2020, which was about the same from April 2019, according to White.

“If the United States does not continue pressure against ISIS, the terrorist group will eventually regain its strength,” USCENTCOM Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. warned Congress in March.

He added the opinion among most of the U.S. intelligence community is that “without sustained pressure levied against it, ISIS has the potential to reconstitute in Iraq and Syria in short order, beyond the current capabilities of the United States to neutralize it without a capable, partnered ground force.”