There have been many crucial victories against the so-called ISIS ‘caliphate’in 2019, including defeat in its final swath of Syrian territory in March and the killing of its shadowy leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seven months later. However, the resilience of the Islamic terrorist group means not only has it not dissipated completely, but it is likely to remain a forceful threat into 2020.
The Islamic State (ISIS) increased its number of attacks by nearly 20 percent following Turkey‘s invasion of northern Syria last year after President Trump withdrew American troops from the area, intelligence officials said, while also saying the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi had no immediate impact on the terror group.
ISIS took advantage of Turkey’s military incursion to battle Kurdish militants, claiming online that it averaged 55 to 66 attacks monthly, Military Times reported Tuesday, citing the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in a report prepared by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Ankara considers Kurdish fighters terrorists because of their links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.
In this Oct. 27, 2019, file photo, people look at a destroyed houses near the village of Barisha, in Idlib province, Syria, after an operation by the U.S. military which targeted Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed, File)
“This suggests ISIS continues to view the security environment in northeast Syria as more conducive to its operations,” the DIA said in the IG report.
Military officials with Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS, said the IG based its report on propaganda and that Turkish military operations have not led to ISIS making a comeback.
Trump withdrew U.S. troops from northern Syria in October after claiming ISIS had been defeated, paving the way for the Turkish invasion. Syrian government forces are backed by Russia, which has filled a power vacuum left by the U.S. troop withdrawal.
On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his military will no longer allow Syrian forces to gain additional territory in the Idlib province in the north.
“At the moment, Syria is trying to gain territory by forcing the innocent and poor people toward our border,” private NTV television quoted Erdogan as telling a group of journalists late Monday. “We won’t give Syria the opportunity to gain territory.”
Only a few hundred American troops remain in the country.
In the IG report, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said that ISIS “remained cohesive, with an intact command and control structure, urban clandestine networks, and an insurgent presence in much of rural Syria” after al-Baghdadi’s death by U.S. forces in Syria last year.
The group “maintained the pace, scope, and complexity of its operations in SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces]-controlled areas, but did not significantly advance its insurgency,” according to CENTCOM, Military Times reported.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.