Despite Previous Rosy Outlook, ISIS Remains A Problem

Aug 15, 2018
Originally published on August 15, 2018 7:17 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

ISIS, the so-called Islamic State, no longer has a capital or much to call a state. But what they do have is up to 30,000 fighters. They're spread between Syria and Iraq. And a report by the United Nations containing that figure of 30,000 comes despite Iraqi official claims that ISIS is defeated there and President Trump's statements that ISIS is almost finished in Syria. NPR's Tom Bowman has more.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: The U.N. report says there are between 20,000 and 30,000 ISIS members still in Syria and Iraq. And the estimates include many thousands of foreign fighters. That number is twice as high as the estimates by U.S. officials and private analysts. The top officer in the coalition fighting ISIS, British Major General Felix Gedney, questioned the U.N. figures during a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon yesterday.

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FELIX GEDNEY: That number seems a little bit high. And I think we'd need to look at the methodology and the data on which that estimation is based.

BOWMAN: Pressed on whether the coalition has its own new estimate, Gedney declined to provide one. Instead, he focused on the estimated number of ISIS fighters along the Euphrates River in eastern Syria.

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GEDNEY: We know there are over 1,000, which is our initial problem in the middle Euphrates River Valley. We also know that there are some ISIS fighters. And a threat remains throughout Iraq and Syria. And we need to make sure that we do enough to ensure the security and stability post-liberation.

BOWMAN: U.S. officials say it could be at least several more months to wrap up military operations against ISIS in Syria. U.S. commandos are providing assistance to the Syrian, Kurdish and Arab rebels fighting ISIS. And coalition airstrikes are hitting the terrorist group. The U.S. is also training local security forces who will take over after ISIS is defeated. Pentagon officials say that effort along with restoring basic services, like water and electricity, could last well into next year. Meanwhile the U.N. report says that even when the ISIS caliphate comes to an end, it could survive as a covert version of itself.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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