ISIS is putting up a stronger fight than the U.S anticipated
The Trump administration’s plan to bring US troops in Syria back home is being complicated by renewed attacks from the terrorist group ISIS, according to The Wall Street Journal.
ISIS has lost the vast majority of its territory and fighters over the past year or so, but many of the fighters who remained fled to the desert and are using stashed weapons and ammunition to stage attacks in both Iraq and Syria.
Prior to retreating from its strongholds in cities like Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq, ISIS reportedly dug tunnels and set up sleeper cells in the desert that stretches across Iraq and Syria.
According to the report, this is a sign ISIS was more prepared for a military collapse than the US may have anticipated. It also means US troops in Syria might have to stay longer than the Trump administration previously thought because removing them could create a big window of opportunity for ISIS.
As Defense Secretary James Mattis said in late in June, “Some of you are questioning whether ISIS was completely taken down. … Just bear with us; there’s still hard fighting ahead.”
Mattis added, “It’s been hard fighting, and again, we win every time our forces go up against them. We’ve lost no terrain to them once it’s been taken.”
The situation in Iraq and Syria is exceptionally convoluted as an array of players with competing interests, including Russia and Iran in addition to the US, fail to find common ground in terms of what should be prioritized moving forward.
Moreover, the conflicting goals of foreign forces in Iraq in Syria often clash with the priorities of local forces, further compounding the already complex circumstances on the ground.
ISIS has seemingly taken advantage of the confusion by staging attacks on an “array of adversaries,” according to The Journal, including US allies.
In early July, for example, ISIS staged its first attack in its former de facto capital, Raqqa, since it was driven from the city in October 2017. The group reportedly targeted US-backed Kurdish forces near a mosque in this attack.
Meanwhile, a recent Soufan Center report warned ISIS is looking to make a comeback by targeting Iraqi law enforcement, a tactic it embraced in 2013 before it rose to power and established a caliphate.
The Iraqi government recently executed 12 ISIS members, which was reportedly in response to the “high-profile assassination” of eight Iraqi security personnel.