The newest report on US-led operations against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria admits the terrorist group is down to some 2,000 fighters, but argues continued US presence in the region is needed to prevent its resurgence.
Published on Monday, the report authored by the Pentagon and State Department inspectors-general also blamed Turkey for spoiling the US-backed Kurdish militia’s operations against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), and predicts no end to strife in the region, going against President Donald Trump’s order to withdraw US troops from Syria.
— Sam Heller (@AbuJamajem) February 4, 2019
The report debunked the widely circulated estimate – from June 2018 – that IS had up to 17,000 fighters in Iraq and up to 14,000 in Syria, calling it questionable even at the time. The US-led coalition, known as the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) had “low confidence” in those estimates as of last July, the report said. As of January, CJTF-OIR estimated only 2,000 IS fighters remaining in the group’s last remaining bastion – known at the Pentagon as the Middle Euphrates River Valley (MERV) and located in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.
The coalition gave conflicting assessments of IS strength and capabilities, reporting at the end of December that it “remains a battle-hardened and well-disciplined force,” with high morale and “unfazed by Coalition airstrikes,” only to say its morale was “trending downward” in January.
Since December, IS has killed several coalition soldiers in ambushes and with roadside bombs. According to CENTCOM, these are “opportunistic attacks” that will allow the militants to claim a propaganda victory.
‘We have to protect Israel’
Even as US troops are pulling out of Syria, President Trump has said he wants to keep some forces in the region “to protect Israel” and “watch Iran.”
“We have to protect other things that we have,” Trump told CBS on Sunday, but said the troops will be “coming back in a matter of time.”'
Read more: Pentagon resists US withdrawal from Syria, claims ISIS might rise again