Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 November 2019

ISIS is 'resurging' in Syria as Trump withdraws troops, watchdog says

The group is exploiting weaknesses in local forces to make gains in the country

An internal security patrol escorts women, reportedly wives of ISIS fighters, in the Al Hol camp in eastern Syria. AFP
An internal security patrol escorts women, reportedly wives of ISIS fighters, in the Al Hol camp in eastern Syria. AFP

ISIS is "resurging" in Syria nearly five months after US President Donald Trump declared victory over the terror group, according to a new Pentagon report.

"Despite losing its territorial 'caliphate,' ISIS solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was resurging in Syria this quarter," the report said.

The report, from the lead inspector general for Operation Inherent Resolve, the official name for the US-led operation fighting ISIS, covers the period from April 1 to June 30, 2019.

Mr Trump has repeatedly praised his administration’s role in driving the insurgents out from areas that were under its control.

"We did a great job with the caliphate. We have 100 per cent of the caliphate, and we're rapidly pulling out of Syria,” Mr Trump told a cabinet meeting last month.

But the new report argues otherwise, even though the insurgents suffered significant territorial losses at the hands of the Iraqi and Syrian forces backed by a US-led international coalition earlier this year, they are exploiting weaknesses in local forces to make gains.

"The reduction of US forces has decreased the support available for Syrian partner forces at a time when their forces need more training and equipping to respond to the ISIS resurgence," Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general, wrote in a message accompanying the report.

Local forces in Syria and Iraq "remain unable to sustain long-term operations, conduct multiple operations simultaneously, or hold territory that they have cleared," the report said.

ISIS has been able to “regroup and sustain its operation”.

The terrorist group aims to “create more turmoil in territory it has lost and to prevent local security forces from establishing effective control and maintaining civil order,” the report said.

Due to the reduction in personnel, the US and its local allies were unable to monitor the Al Hol internal displacement camp that is home to thousands of refugees.

Most of the camp's inhabitants have shown support for ISIS. The majority of them surrendered during the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces's final offensive against ISIS earlier this year.

The report is significant as it is an extraordinarily negative assessment of the counter ISIS campaign from the Department of Defence, said Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute.

“The Trump administration’s decision regarding Syria and posture regarding Iran have made things immeasurably worse,” Mr Lister said on Twitter.

The extremist group has between 14,000 and 18,000 “members” in Iraq and Syria, up to 3,000 are believed to be foreign fighters, the report said.

Updated: August 7, 2019 12:05 PM

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