Cairo – Repeated attacks by the Islamic State (IS) group in both Iraq and Syria attest to the growing power of the terrorist organization in the two states and also its possible resurgence in them.
IS sleeper cells are out to stage attacks on security and army personnel in the two countries, months after their organization was declared dead in them, amid fears that IS is regrouping, using porous security conditions in them.
On July 29, IS militants attacked oilfields in the northern Iraqi province of Saladin, for the first time since the Iraqi army obliterated IS strongholds in Mosul and other Iraqi cities in late 2017. IS militants, an Iraqi security official said, used light arms in the attack, before they blew up a police vehicle. He noted that the blast did not cause any human casualties.
This attack came two days before IS militants killed two Kurdish soldiers and injured two others when they attacked a security post in Sulaymaniyah province in the Kurdistan region. On August 22, an IS cell staged an attack in the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala, leaving two Iraqi policemen dead and three others injured. Iraqi policemen also succeeded in shooting and killing four IS militants.
These attacks were only part of an apparent IS strengthening in the region. They were coupled with other attacks in neighboring Syria where the terrorist organization claimed responsibility for a July 28 attack on a security post in the southern province of Daraa. Six Syrian troops were killed in the attack.
On August 18, IS killed seven Syrian army troops in the western Syrian city of Homs. The UK-based office, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, documented the killing by IS of 147 troops in Syria between March 24 and June 17.
Those killed, the observatory said, included two Russian soldiers and nine pro-Iran troops. The office also surveyed 47 IS deaths in the same period.
The apparent regrouping of the terrorist organization coincides with the findings of a recent Pentagon Inspector General report that says “despite losing its territorial ‘caliphate,’ IS solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was re-surging in Syria.”
This assessment came only months after US President Donald Trump declared the total defeat of the IS caliphate. It says IS was regaining strength since Trump ordered the withdrawal of about half of US troops in Syria.
“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 IS resurgence,” Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general, wrote in a message accompanying the IG report, which was released earlier in August.
The IG report said that the reduction in US personnel has made it more difficult to monitor the al Hol camp for internally displaced persons in northeastern Syria, where, according to the United Nations, “humanitarian relief needs are particularly acute”.
Approximately 70,000 internally displaced people, including nearly 50,000 under the age of 18, live in the camp. A lack of close monitoring has permitted “IS ideology to spread ‘uncontested’ in the camp,” potentially allowing IS to replenish its ranks among the tens of thousands of inhabitants, the report said.
Asked about his assessment of IS, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged on August 20 that there are places where IS is more powerful than it was three or four years ago. He, however, sought to downplay the risk posed by the terrorist organization.
“What we’ve always said is the caliphate’s been gone and there’s always risks that there’ll be a resurgence, not just from IS,” Pompeo said on “CBS This Morning.”
“It’s complicated,” Pompeo said when asked if ISIS is gaining strength. “The caliphate is gone and their capacity to conduct external attacks has been made much more difficult,” he added. “We’ve taken down significant risk — not all of it, but a significant amount.”