ISIS still poses a significant threat to Iraq and Syria and to the wider world, the deputy commander for stability for Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command Operation Inherent Resolve said.
Providing a coalition operations update from Baghdad to reporters at the Pentagon via teleconference, British Army Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika said ISIS has “morphed into an underground network that we must root out and destroy.”
The enduring defeat of ISIS is OIR’s objective, the general said. Strong governance and effective stabilization are the long-term keys to security and prosperity, and the international community must do all it can to help, he added.
March 23 was the most recent significant ISIS defeat when the terrorists lost control of any physical territory in Baghuz, Syria, he noted.
“We must reflect on this great achievement by our partner forces and the coalition,” Ghika emphasized. “For five years, [ISIS’] reign of terror instilled unbounded fear into innocent Iraqis and Syrians. Today, it has been reduced to an underground organization, forced out of population centers and into hiding in caves and the mountains. Its aspirations for a global caliphate have been destroyed.”
No Time for Complacency
Yet, the general warned against complacency, stating that this is not the end of ISIS or operations against ISIS. “Although it is now on the back foot,” he said, “[ISIS] foresaw the fall of its physical caliphate and has been reorganizing itself into a network of cells, intent on striking key leaders, village elders and military personnel to undermine the security and stability in Iraq and Syria.”
ISIS fighters are still ambushing security patrols, detonating improvised explosive devices and kidnapping people, the general noted. And despite its loss of territorial control in Iraq and Syria, ISIS’ ideology still inspires people around the world, he warned.
The ISIS-claimed Sri Lanka bombings on Easter prove the organization’s ongoing acts of terrorism, while the online appearance of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi for the first time in more than five years conceded defeat in Baghuz, but roused ISIS supporters to fight, he noted.
“The Iraqi army, supported by the coalition and by Iraqi F-16 fighter jets and C-130 transport aircraft, are disrupting the network of [ISIS] cells across Iraq’s Ninevah, Salah ad Din, Anbar, Diyalah and Kirkuk provinces,” the general said. “Recent operations in Wadi Ashai and the Hamrin Mountains have cleared successfully hundreds of miles of territory in which [ISIS] groups were hiding. [ISIS] commanders and fighters have been killed or captured, and weapons, ammunition and IED-making equipment have been seized.”
In northeastern Syria, political discussions are ongoing to ensure regional stability. Militarily, the United States will continue working with its partners to create conditions where ISIS cannot thrive again, Ghika said. Coalition partners are progressing steadily back up the Euphrates River valley to clear remnants of ISIS, following the take back of Baghuz, he added.
On a humanitarian level, the general said, tens of thousands of internally displaced persons and refugees are in northeastern Syria. Local and international humanitarian organisations are managing the situation, he said, “but we must be mindful that there is a large concentration of radicalized individuals in these camps who will want to return to their homes in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. We need to assist with deradicalization and education to prevent a new generation of [ISIS] emerging when these people go home.”
Any instability will allow ISIS to thrive, he said. “The terrorist organization will exploit divisions in society and fragile governance. … We cannot allow this to happen,” Ghika said. “[ISIS’] widespread killings, the brutal executions, the destruction of towns, cities and ancient monuments must remain a thing of the past.”