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ISIS ‘Resurging’ in Syria, ‘Consolidating’ in Iraq
A screenshot of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who appeared on video for the first time in five years last April. (YouTube)

ISIS ‘Resurging’ in Syria, ‘Consolidating’ in Iraq

Islamic State organization isn’t defeated after all

ISIS is making a comeback in Syria and Iraq nearly six months after President Donald Trump declared the terror group’s “caliphate” defeated, according to a report by the US Department of Defense.

The report said that despite losing major chunks of territory it once controlled in both countries, ISIS was regrouping amid an American troop withdrawal.

“Despite losing its territorial ‘caliphate,’ the Islamic State…solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was resurging in Syria this quarter,” the report said.

It added that ISIS has managed to “regroup and sustain operations” in both countries because local forces are incapable of protecting the regions previously captured from ISIS.

Last December, President Trump tweeted that “we have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there.”

The report contradicts this claim while warning that ISIS’ resurgence has come as Washington “completed a partial withdrawal” from Syria, despite commanders on the ground saying that the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces “needed more training and equipping for counterinsurgency operations.”

Only a small number of American soldiers have remained in northeastern Syria, an area not controlled by Bashar al-Assad loyalists.

According to Robert Riggs, an associate professor of religion and politics at Connecticut’s University of Bridgeport, “although it’s core territorial holdings in Iraq and Syria have been taken away in the last three years, many experts consider there to be over 30,000 members of the group or sympathizers that survived the military defeat. Simultaneously,” he continued, “over the past five years franchise movements in Afghanistan, the Sinai Peninsula, Yemen, Libya, Central Asia and cells in Western Europe adopted the ISIS “brand” as a way to gain support.

Riggs stressed that the Islamic State has “essentially become Al-Qa’ida 2.0 and is still an existential threat globally…. Using the term ‘comeback’ is therefore misleading because ISIS was never actually defeated in its entirety.”

Indeed, the US Department of Defense report noted that ISIS members have carried out targeted assassinations, ambushes and suicide bombings across the Middle East, and that in Iraq, specifically, it has “established a more stable command and control node and a logistics node for coordination of attacks.”

At its peak, ISIS controlled large swaths of territory stretching from western Syria to eastern Iraq. The group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has been in hiding, is reportedly working to reorganize his forces.

In an interview with The Media Line, Ömer Özkizilcik, an expert on Syria at the SETA Foundation, said that “ISIS will focus on destabilization for a long period of time before they revert back to territorial control.”

The main reason for this, he contended, “is that [ISIS’] extremist ideology wasn’t defeated. In order to do so, the Islamic State needs to be fought by Sunni Arabs, but the US instead has worked with Shiite Arabs in Iraq and with a Marxist Kurdish terror group in Syria.”

Özkizilcik argued that the US needs to “align its efforts with regional Sunni actors like Turkey which enjoy close ties with the Sunni populations in Iraq and Syria.”

Moreover, he disagreed that the drawdown of American troops is responsible for the current predicament. “It has nothing to do with the amount of American soldiers on the ground, but with the overall US strategy. Instead of short-term, ad hoc maneuvers, [Washington] needs a broader approach to the region. The US should listen to its partners that know the local people best.”

Hassan Awwad, an expert on extremist groups, told The Media Line that the Islamic State “feeds on chaos and as long as the Middle East is unstable, it will continue to exist. Both Iraq and Syria have weak central governments which is perfect for ISIS.”

Awwad added that “President Trump prematurely declared the end of ISIS, as the organization has many loyal and sympathetic followers around the world. They are weaker, but they are not dead.

“You can’t defeat ISIS until you deal with its ideology. And the ideology still lives,” he concluded.

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