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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

ISIL in Iraq and Syria unable to direct overseas attack plots 

ISIL are on the path to defeat, says Major General Rupert Jones, a British staff officer

Fighting in Raqqa, Syria, has been intense and bloody. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Fighting in Raqqa, Syria, has been intense and bloody. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

ISIL fighters in Iraq and Syria are no longer capable of directing overseas attack plots because of the intense military pressure on the group, the deputy commander of the US-led coalition battling the extremists said on Tuesday.

“If you are fighting in Raqqa right now, do you think you are plotting to attack Birmingham or Brussels? I would warrant not,” Major General Rupert Jones, a British staff officer, said. “[ISIL] is on the path to defeat.”

Warnings that Europe, in particular, faces an increasing backwash of terror threats from the Syria conflict have been borne out by successive attacks by Islamist extremists.

But Gen Jones said the fall of Mosul and the gradual collapse of Raqqa does not automatically mean ISIL fighters are orchestrating pop-up attacks elsewhere.

Just as new recruits were now struggling to get to the frontline, foreign fighters were blocked from returning to their homelands.

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"It's equally hard to move back out, in the same way if you can't get across through Turkey easily, you can't get out easily either," he said.

Gen Jones made clear his remarks did not address ISIL’s capacity to inspire extremists to mount assaults such as the one in Barcelona last week in which a terror cell killed 12 people. But his comments angered some who believe the group is shifting its focus beyond its territorial footprint in the region.

“What a ridiculous statement to make. He should know better,” said Luke Coffey, a former adviser to the British defence minister. “All it takes is one nut job to blow himself up. It doesn’t require territory in Iraq/Syria.”

Gen Jones said allied fighters in Syria were facing heavy resistance in the assault on ISIL's stronghold in Raqqa but had wrested control of up to 60 per cent of the city.

Iraq’s offensive in Tal Afar, where there are an estimated 2,000 ISIL fighters among a civilian population of more than 10,000 had made rapid progress in its first 48 hours, Gen Jones said. The Iraqi assault had already seized back territory the size of Switzerland as it placed a noose south and west of the city, he added.

The coalition was intensifying the pressure on the group with 250 strikes on its positions throughout both Syria and Iraq in the last week.

Further fragmentation of ISIL is expected to see the group’s fighters scatter into safe havens in the Euphrates River valley. Gen Jones predicted ISIL units would attempt to test the de-confliction lines between the US-led coalition's air operations and those of the Syria-Russia alliance.

The deputy commander also disputed a figure of 50,000 civilian casualties in the Mosul offensive, saying the coalition had accepted 624 “unintentional deaths”.