Islamic State is far from defeated and an anticipated “devastating” comeback could be worse than the bloody insurgency that launched its so-called caliphate, a new report has warned.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War has painted a deeply disturbing picture of what may lie in store in Iraq and Syria, in sharp contrast to US President Donald Trump who claimed last December the group was defeated.
According to the report, there are numerous pockets of well-armed, well-financed sleeper cells ready to launch waves of guerrilla attacks.
The report explains how ISIS likely already has the capacity to seize an urban centre in Iraq or Syria but is waiting to build strength and degrade enemies so it can seize many at once and hold them.
ISIS deliberately withdrew and relocated many of its fighters and their families from Mosul, Raqqa and other important cities into new and old support zones in Iraq and Syria, the report adds.
“ISIS retained a global finance network that funded its transition back to an insurgency and managed to preserve sufficient weapons and other supplies in tunnel systems and other support zones in order to equip its regenerated insurgent force.”
“[This] will enable it to wage an even more aggressive insurgency in coming months.”
Is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi still alive?
The group’s elusive leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains at large – despite several reports claiming he had been killed.
In April, al-Baghdadi appeared for the first time in five years in a video released by the extremist group’s propaganda arm, after the Easter Day bombings in Sri Lanka which killed over 250 people.
The report has claimed al-Baghdadi is reconstituting command-and-control structures within ISIS, whose leadership group has remained largely intact.
Al-Baghdadi’s extremist fighters have systematically eliminated village leaders and civilians who cooperated with anti-ISIS forces.
“Its goal is to weaken resistance and to fuel the population’s distrust of the Government of Iraq,” the report stated.
Worryingly reminiscent of its activities when it ruled large swathes of Iraq and Syria, IS has re-imposed taxes on local populations in its historical support zones.
The report also anticipated US-backed anti-ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria can expect to face a barrage of Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) across Iraq and Syria – the terrifying signature of its early campaigns leading up to the conquest of Fallujah and Mosul in 2014.
There are also signs ISIS is steadily rebuilding its media arm, which was a critical component of the group’s ability to recruit foreign fighters, urge lone wolf attacks in the West and spread violent propaganda.
Last December, Trump controversially announced the US would be withdrawing its troops from Syria.
Trump’s shock proclamation blindsided allies in the region and culminated in the resignation of Defence Secretary James Mattis.
In reference to Islamic State, Trump said: “We’ve knocked them out. We’ve knocked them silly.”