WASHINGTON — ISIS may be close to defeat as a land-holding force but is is poised to remain an underground terrorist entity far into the future, the Pentagon’s internal inspector general says in a new report.
In a quarterly report assessing the anti-ISIS effort in Iraq and Syria, the inspector general said “ISIS’s retention of desert terrain along the Iraq-Syria border bolsters its ability to operate underground in Syria and to plan and carry out attacks against both U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the northeast and against pro-Syrian regime forces elsewhere.”
The report, released Monday, said ISIS functions as a “hybrid organization” capable of fighting both as a conventional force and as insurgents.
The report also said that ISIS exploited a two-month pause in fighting in northern Syria earlier this year “to recruit new members, gain resources, and conduct attacks.”
U.S.-backed coalition ground forces are attempting to recapture the last ground redoubts of ISIS in the Middle Euphrates River valley. The mission, called Operation Roundup, is in its final of three phases and the anti-ISIS coalition has met stubborn resistance and strong counter-attacks, Pentagon officials say.
“The battles can be described as the areas in the lower Middle Euphrates River Valley (MERV) and the SDF have taken three of the 10 towns in the area on the way to Hajin (Syria),” Col Sean Ryan, a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command, told TMN in an email. “Hajin is the final city held by ISIS and the MERV is the last concentrated area of ISIS fighters.”
The inspector general report said ISIS has lost all territory it held in Iraq and remained in control of only 1 percent of territory it once held in Syria. “However, the DoD and a report produced by a United Nations Security Council monitoring committee stated that an effective clandestine ISIS organization has moved underground and is acting as an insurgency in both countries,” the report said.
The report said the Pentagon has concluded that Iraqi security forces would need “years, if not decades” to become self-reliant. “This, coupled with complications to OIR (Operation Inherent Resolve) arising from Syria’s civil war, also raised the possibility of long-term U.S. military involvement in both countries,” the report said.