As much of the Western world focuses on the growing threat from the Islamic State group’s affiliate in Afghanistan, new intelligence suggests that there is reason again to worry about the terror group’s core in Syria and Iraq.
Down to an estimated 10,000 fighters, a small fraction of what it boasted at its peak, and working in small, clandestine cells across the two countries, the terror group, also known as IS or ISIS, has been trying to maintain what intelligence and military officials describe as a low-level insurgency, with varying degrees of success.
But U.S. military and intelligence officials caution that the group’s fortunes may be starting to change, which may allow it to retake territory in Syria and Iraq and its leaders to assert greater influence over affiliates and followers worldwide.
‘Poised to increase activity’
In Syria, in particular, IS appears “poised to increase activity … after a period of recuperation and recovery,” the Defense Intelligence Agency told the Defense Department’s inspector general in its just-released quarterly report on U.S. operations in the region.
The DIA said IS activity began to pick up in September, with a growing number of attacks in Syria’s central desert against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Other targets have included fuel infrastructure and supply routes, and even Iranian-backed militias, the DIA said.
U.S. military intelligence officials also said there was evidence IS relocated some fighters from the central desert to northeastern Syria, where local officials say the terror group is finding other ways to expand.
“ISIS is not limited to a military presence only,” Elham Ahmad, the executive president of the Syrian Democratic Council, told reporters last month during a visit to Washington.
IS’s sway over people
“What’s most important is the intellectual and ideological influence that ISIS has over the people,” Ahmad said, warning that the terror group has established cells in key cities such as Raqqa and Deir el-Zour.
“The reemergence of ISIS is pretty possible,” warned Ghassan al-Youssef, co-president of the Deir el-Zour Civic Council. “They are able to reorganize to raise funds to get stronger.”
IS has found a fertile recruiting ground in displaced-persons camps such as al-Hol, home to almost 60,000 women and children, many connected to dead or captured IS fighters.
Despite efforts by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, U.S. military intelligence officials warn, IS “retains the capability to radicalize, intimidate, recruit and conduct attacks.”
Source- Voice of America (VOA)