In spite of repeated assertions by Trump of his administration’s success in defeating the terrorist organization and destroying its so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria, experts still think that ISIS remains a threat. While ISIS’s so-called “caliphate” has been destroyed, and it no longer holds even a fraction of the territory it once did. March 2019 was the most recent significant ISIS defeat when the terrorists lost control of any physical territory in Baghuz, Syria. “This territory gave ISIS tremendous resources. It recruited both volunteers and conscripts, extorted ordinary citizens, and plundered oil reserves and ancient artifacts to fill its coffers, said Zack Beauchamp.
That matters a lot: Without a safe haven in which you can plan, train your forces, and build up your military, it’s a lot harder to launch a major military offensive like the kind we saw when ISIS first swept into Iraq in 2014. If you’re constantly on the run, moving from safe house to safe house while being hunted by US-led forces, it’s also difficult to communicate with the more far-flung members of your organization.
“We must reflect on this great achievement by our partner forces and the coalition,” British Army Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika emphasized. “For five years, [ISIS’] reign of terror instilled unbounded fear into innocent Iraqis and Syrians. Today, it has been reduced to an underground organization, forced out of population centers and into hiding in caves and the mountains. Its aspirations for a global caliphate have been destroyed.”
Although it may not have its caliphate anymore, ISIS is still a potent terrorist organization capable of wreaking havoc and bloodshed. A 2018 report by the Defense Department’s Inspector General, said the US military estimates that ISIS still has between 28,600 and 31,600 active fighters in Syria and Iraq. Those numbers support the findings of a July 18 UN report that said several current estimates from UN member states put the number of active ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria at “between 20,000 and 30,000 individuals, roughly equally distributed between the two countries.”
A national counterterrorism expert in July 2019 said he’s concerned that Americans are becoming complacent because the United States hasn’t seen a large-scale terrorist attack on its soil since the 9/11 attacks. “When I testify [before Congress] now, ‘complacency’ is a word that I use a lot, because I do worry that we are a bit of a victim of our own success,” Russ Travers, the deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told former CIA director Michael Morell in an interview for CBS News.
“There’s a bit of a fatigue factor, I think, settling in with terrorism in general,” he told Morell, now the CBS News senior national security contributor, for his “Intelligence Matters” podcast. Travers said the complacency worries him because there are a “lot of ominous trends out there.”
Travers noted that ISIS has brought together a core group of leaders after its caliphate collapsed earlier this year, and it is still operating insurgent cells. More than 14,000 ISIS fighters are still operating in Iraq and Syria, said Travers, marking more than it had six or seven years ago in a network that has spread out to more than 20 countries. ISIS and Al Qaeda fighters sometimes cooperate in Africa but fight against each other in Yemen and Syria.
The general warned against complacency, stating that this is not the end of ISIS or operations against ISIS. “Although it is now on the back foot,” he said, “[ISIS] foresaw the fall of its physical caliphate and has been reorganizing itself into a network of cells, intent on striking key leaders, village elders and military personnel to undermine the security and stability in Iraq and Syria.”
ISIS fighters are still ambushing security patrols, detonating improvised explosive devices and kidnapping people, the general noted. And despite its loss of territorial control in Iraq and Syria, ISIS’ ideology still inspires people around the world, he warned. The ISIS-claimed Sri Lanka bombings on Easter prove the organization’s ongoing acts of terrorism, while the online appearance of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi for the first time in more than five years conceded defeat in Baghuz, but roused ISIS supporters to fight, he noted.
Providing a coalition operations update from Baghdad to reporters at the Pentagon via teleconference, British Army Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika said ISIS has “morphed into an underground network that we must root out and destroy.” The enduring defeat of ISIS is OIR’s objective, the general said. Strong governance and effective stabilization are the long-term keys to security and prosperity, and the international community must do all it can to help, he added.
“The Iraqi army, supported by the coalition and by Iraqi F-16 fighter jets and C-130 transport aircraft, are disrupting the network of [ISIS] cells across Iraq’s Ninevah, Salah ad Din, Anbar, Diyalah and Kirkuk provinces,” the general said. “Recent operations in Wadi Ashai and the Hamrin Mountains have cleared successfully hundreds of miles of territory in which [ISIS] groups were hiding. [ISIS] commanders and fighters have been killed or captured, and weapons, ammunition and IED-making equipment have been seized.”
The threat of terror attacks, by militants entering Europe in the guise of refugees and through foreign fighters in ISIS.
On a humanitarian level, the general said, tens of thousands of internally displaced persons and refugees are in northeastern Syria. Local and international humanitarian organisations are managing the situation, he said, “but we must be mindful that there is a large concentration of radicalized individuals in these camps who will want to return to their homes in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. We need to assist with deradicalization and education to prevent a new generation of [ISIS] emerging when these people go home.”
US intelligence, after succeeding in decoding locked communications of the ISIL leadership, has warned that Takfiri militants fighting in Iraq and Syria want to enter Turkey under the guise of refugees to travel to Germany and from there to other spots in Europe. “In view of the chaotic conditions on the Syria-Turkey border, it is nearly impossible to catch ISIL terrorists in the wave of refugees,” said the report, which has also been confirmed by German officials.
The militants cannot use airports to go to Europe due to strict control, the report added.The threat appears plausible as more and more European nations, including Britain, Denmark and Belgium and Australia are joining the U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State militants, and ISIS militants threatening all communities, including Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians, Izadi Kurds, and others, as they continue their atrocities in Iraq.
There are more than 10,000 foreign fighters who have bolstered the ranks of militant groups in Syria and Iraq, 3,000 holding European or other Western passports, making it easy for them to travel across most borders and carrying out terror attacks aimed at the United States or its allies, according to earlier reports
Terrorists have launched massive campaigns on social media urging Americans and westerners to join the fight to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East. This is leading to worries that foreign fighters may return to the United States and Europe to launch an attack.
ISIS’s dislike for territorial nationalism and democracy is quite clear, to quote Baghdadi: “Muslims today have a loud, thundering statement, and possess heavy boots. They have a statement to make that will make the world hear and understand the meaning of terrorism, and boots that will trample the idol of nationalism, destroy the idol of democracy and uncover its deviant nature.
Intelligence agencies have warned that many training complexes have sprung up in Syria, where the recruits from Europe and US are being trained in extremist anti-Western ideology, trained in how to make and detonate car bombs and suicide vests and are sent back to their country to start new terror cells and, conduct more terrorist acts. It is estimated that 700 French nationals have either travelled to Syria or returned to France and up to 50 British fighters have already returned home It was also reported that Yemeni terrorists have developed a powerful cellphone bomb designed to avoid detection at airports, prompting the airports to stiffen security measures, especially checking cell phones and other electronic devices.
Some of the measures were intelligence provided and shared by intelligence agencies on suspects, conduction of undercover investigations, and enacted stronger laws criminalizing support for terrorist groups.
Any instability will allow ISIS to thrive, he said. “The terrorist organization will exploit divisions in society and fragile governance. … We cannot allow this to happen,” Ghika said. “[ISIS’] widespread killings, the brutal executions, the destruction of towns, cities and ancient monuments must remain a thing of the past.”