U.S. government and foreign experts alike are warning that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is still a dangerous threat, with as many as 10,000 loyalists still within the two Middle East countries, NBC News reported.
The number of active ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq is estimated to be between 1,000 and 3,000 — down from a high of 45,000 — but loyalists to the terror group are predicted to be 6,000 to 8,000, which includes possible lone-wolf attackers, U.S. officials told NBC News.
Hisham al-Hashimi, an adviser to the Iraqi government in its fight against ISIS, told the news outlet that the number of ISIS loyalists in Iraq and Syria is closer to 10,000.
That presence was demonstrated with a double suicide bombing in Baghdad last week that killed 100.
ISIS swept into Iraq in 2014, taking large swaths of territory in the north and west, including Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul.
The Iraqi government declared victory over ISIS last year after Iraqi forces backed by the U.S.-led coalition ousted the terror group from its last militant-held town of Rawa in November. ISIS’s holdings are now pushed to patches of desert along the border with Syria.
The U.S.-led coalition and its allies in Syria also took back the ISIS capital of Raqqa in October and continue to battle ISIS throughout the region.
Defense Secretary James Mattis said in November to expect U.S. troops to stay in Syria until a political process to resolve that country’s civil war starts.
“That's our goal right now, to continue until ISIS is extinguished,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.
“But we're not just going to walk away right now before the Geneva process has cracked. That doesn't mean everyone stays there. That doesn't mean for certain troops are leaving.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson echoed that sentiment last week and said a new U.S. strategy in Syria hinged on maintaining an indefinite military presence in the country. The strategy would aim to crush the remnants of ISIS, as well as oust the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“The United States will maintain a military presence in Syria focused on ensuring [ISIS] cannot reemerge. We cannot make the same mistakes that were made in 2011 when a premature departure from Iraq allowed al Qaeda in Iraq to survive and eventually morph into [ISIS],” Tillerson said.