Tuesday, the quarterly report covering April 1, 2019 to June 30, 2019 was released by the Pentagon Lead Inspector General and suggests ISIS is attempting a possible resurgence in Syria, according to Military.com.
Earlier in the year, ISIS was struggling to hold on to a handful of territories but it appears with the recent withdrawal of US troops from Syria, they are gaining new traction.
“This quarter, ISIS continued is transition from a territory ― holding force to an insurgency in Syria, and it intensified its insurgency in Iraq,” Pentagon Principal Deputy Inspector General Glenn Fine wrote in a memo included with the report.
In February, the Military Times reported that 200 US troops would remain in Syria rather than a full withdrawal after concerns were raised. Leaders in the Pentagon warned such a swift withdrawal could lead to a possible resurgence of ISIS. “A small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders at the time, providing no further details.
Commander of US forces in the Middle East, General Joseph Votel, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in early February that gains on the battlefield could only be secured by “maintaining a vigilant offensive,” and stressed that ISIS still had “leaders, fighters, facilitators, resources and the profane ideology that fuels their efforts.”
The report states that although ISIS cells have not made attempts to regain large areas, militants in Iraq and Syria have maintained their mission with “targeted assassinations, ambushes, suicide bombings, and the burning of crops.”
The US, in conjunction with the Syrian Democratic Forces, are making great efforts to stabilize territories that have been liberated in the last four years from ISIS, but the SDF have previously issued warnings that without US support on the ground, they would be forced to consider a partnership with the Damascus regime under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, or Russia, according to their website.
At the time of President Donald Trump’s announcement to withdraw troops last December, there were approximately 2,000 troops in Syria. That number is estimated to have dropped to only 1,000 troops left remaining, according to the Washington Post.
The US in Syria is focusing on a large Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camp called Al-Hol where over 70,000 people reside, with nearly 50,000 being women and children under the age of 18 who fled the enclave held by ISIS in Baghuz this past March. CENTCOM says that “ISIS will likely attempt to enlist new members from the large pool of internally displaced persons.” Due to lack of security personnel in the camp, the US is now relying on “third-party” information about the happenings within the camp, with very little US assets on the ground.
The SDF detained approximately 2,000 ISIS fighters according to the report, 800 of which are radicalized Europeans from the UK, France and Germany that then traveled to Syria. President Donald Trump warned if Europe does not take back their citizens they may have no other choice but to release them.
Outlined in a report released in July by the United Nations, ISIS is using the internet to strengthen its base. The report states ISIS has recently began to focus on “using propaganda to maintain the group’s reputation as the leading global terrorist brand—the ‘virtual caliphate.’”
According to the report, not only is the terrorist group encouraging the type of “low-tech” attacks seen across Europe and beyond (such as stabbings and using vehicles to attack innocent civilians), but have also recently ramped up “online tutorials on building home-made chemical and biological weapons.”
The report also reveals the use of the dark web and encrypted platforms such as Telegram being used by the terror group to purchase illegal travel documents from the Italian mafia.
“ISIS and their online supporters continue to operate a sophisticated online network that spreads propaganda, encourages lone actor attacks, and disseminates information on internet security, explosives, and the use of a variety of weaponry,” Joshua Fisher-Birch from the US based terrorism watchdog group the Counter Extremism Project recently stated. “While certain social media platforms have finally prioritized removal and improved their capabilities to get rid of dangerous content, there are still communications platforms such as Telegram and Rocket Chat that allow for ISIS’s online preservation,” he added.
The UN report recommended the Committee write to Member states highlighting the threat associated with their use of the dark web and stressed the concern about ISIS and other terrorist groups having the ability to use cryptocurrencies.
“One Member State monitoring activity on the dark web has observed attempts by terrorists to raise funds [using cryptocurrencies], although it could not be determined whether such activity was related to financial support for (ISIS) or Al-Qaeda,” the report stated.
The report went on to state the concern lies less on large scale purchases made by ISIS, but rather “lone actors” purchasing weapons in preparation for an attack.
“While [the dark web] cannot be regarded as an important source of arms for conflict areas, it poses a risk as a significant source of arms for lone actors and small groups, especially in jurisdictions in which the purchase of arms is otherwise regulated,” the report read.