Watchdog report: ISIS likely to claim victory with US withdrawal from Syria

Watchdog report: ISIS likely to claim victory with US withdrawal from Syria
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The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is likely to portray the U.S. withdrawal from Syria as a “victory,” the U.S. military told a watchdog this month.

“ISIS may conduct opportunistic attacks on U.S. personnel as they withdraw but will leverage the event as a ‘victory’ in its media,” U.S. Central Command told an inspector general, according to a report released Monday.

The quote was included in the latest quarterly report from the lead inspector general for Operation Inherent Resolve and was a response to the inspector general's question on the effect of a U.S. withdrawal from Syria.

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As NBC and CNN previously reported, the report also warned that ISIS could regain territory in six to 12 months without sustained pressure.

“ISIS remains an active insurgent group in both Iraq and Syria,” Central Command told the inspector general, according to Monday’s report. “Currently, ISIS is regenerating key functions and capabilities more quickly in Iraq than in Syria, but absent sustained [counterterrorism] pressure, ISIS could likely resurge in Syria within six to twelve months and regain limited territory in the [Middle Euphrates River Valley].”

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE announced in December he would withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. At the time, he said ISIS in Syria has been defeated.

He and other administration officials have since walked that back, saying ISIS has lost about 99 percent of the territory it once held.

In the Monday report, Central Command warned that ISIS will “very likely” have the opportunity to create conditions to reemerge if “Sunni socio-economic, political and sectarian grievances are not adequately addressed by the national and local governments of Iraq and Syria.”

Operation Inherent Resolve also told the inspector general that ISIS is still able to “effectively coordinate military offensives and counter-offensives” in the Middle Euphrates River Valley.

And despite losing most of its territory in Syria, ISIS continued to attract foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria, the inspector general added.

The exact number of new foreign fighters is unknown, but Operation Inherent Resolve told the inspector general it is “most likely” 50 per month.

This quarter’s report did not include an unclassified number of total ISIS fighters remaining, but said about 2,000 fighters remained in the Middle Euphrates River Valley.

The warnings in the inspector general report follow similar warnings the intelligence community gave the Senate last week.

“The group will exploit any reduction in [counterterrorism] pressure to strengthen its clandestine presence and accelerate rebuilding key capabilities, such as media production and external operations,” read last week’s intelligence report, which was released in conjunction with a Senate hearing with Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsHillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger Hillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger House Intel to take first major deep dive into threat of 'deepfakes' MORE and CIA Director Gina Haspel.

Trump first responded to the assessment by pushing back and insisting the “caliphate will soon be destroyed.” 

Trump later claimed the intelligence chiefs told him their testimony was mischaracterized by the media.