The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group is “resurging” in Syria even as the United States withdrew troops, and is solidifying its insurgent capabilities in neighboring Iraq, a Defense Department watchdog said Tuesday.
The jihadists — who suffered major territorial losses at the hands of Iraqi and Syrian forces backed by a US-led international air campaign — are exploiting weaknesses in local forces to make gains, the report from the Office of Inspector General said.
“Despite losing its territorial ‘caliphate,’ the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was resurging in Syria this quarter,” according to the report, which uses an alternate name for the jihadist group.
IS has been able to “regroup and sustain operations” in the two countries partially because local forces “remain unable to sustain long-term operations, conduct multiple operations simultaneously, or hold territory that they have cleared,” the report said.
The group’s Syria resurgence came as Washington “completed a partial withdrawal” from the country, a move made despite commanders saying that the local US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) “needed more training and equipping for counterinsurgency operations.”
Last year, US President Donald Trump declared victory against IS and ordered the withdrawal of all American troops from Syria — a decision that prompted defense secretary Jim Mattis to quit.
A small number of American troops have remained in northeastern Syria, an area not controlled by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and Washington is pushing for increased military support from other members of the international coalition against IS.
IS jihadists have carried out targeted assassinations, ambushes and suicide bombings in both countries, and in Iraq have “established a more stable command and control node and a logistics node for coordination of attacks,” the report said.
The group’s strategy in the two countries is to “create turmoil in territory it has lost” and prevent local security forces “from establishing effective control and maintaining civil order.”
IS has suffered major losses, but its predecessor the Islamic State of Iraq likewise appeared on the ropes after Sunni Muslim tribesmen turned against the jihadists, combining with the US “surge” of troops in 2007-2008 to deal them a body blow.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was however able to revive the extremists’ fortunes, drawing on subsequent widespread Sunni anger with Iraq’s Shiite-led government to rebuild, aided by the chaos and violence of the Syrian civil war.
The jihadists seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq, declaring an Islamic “caliphate” in 2014 and committing widespread atrocities, and were only pushed back after multiple years of heavy fighting and a massive US air campaign.
Giuliani henchman showered Republican with cash — and Trump almost made him ambassador to Ukraine: report
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Taylor Swift takes on former record label — and #IStandWithTaylor trends on Twitter
Taylor Swift on Thursday publicly reignited her battle with the heads of her former label, saying it is threatening to bar her from going through with an upcoming performance and Netflix documentary over her plans to re-record her early albums.
Earlier this year the superstar began feuding with industry mogul Scooter Braun over his purchase of her former label for more than a decade, the Nashville-based Big Machine, which gave him a majority stake in the master recordings of her first six albums.
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Israel launches air and missile strikes in the Gaza Strip despite ceasefire
Israel launched fresh strikes against Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza, the army said early Friday, weakening a ceasefire put in place after fighting this week killed 34 Palestinians in exchanges of fire.
The ceasefire began Thursday morning following two days of deadly violence in the Gaza Strip triggered by an Israeli strike on an Islamic Jihad commander.
But Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said in a WhatsApp message to reporters that new overnight strikes were under way on Islamic Jihad, the second most powerful Palestinian militant group in Gaza after Hamas.
"The IDF is currently striking Islamic Jihad terror targets in the Gaza Strip," it said.