ISIS Continues To Operate Despite Trump Announcing Their Eradication

Various sources have confirmed that ISIS has regained strength in major footholds, months after Trump claimed responsibility for wiping out the terror group entirely. According to a 15 July United Nations assessment on the status of ISIS, the “caliphate” has lost its geographical centre and is operating covertly. However, its leadership persists in Iraq and Syria and is working to maintain the group’s relevance through propaganda. ISIS has created sleeper cells in local populations while the group re-establishes its international capabilities so that it may facilitate attacks in other parts of the world. President Trump was quoted assuring that ISIS had been eradicated completely: “We did a great job. We have 100 percent of the caliphate, and we’re rapidly pulling out of Syria. We’ll be out of there pretty soon. And let them handle their own problems. Syria can handle their own problems — along with Iran, along with Russia, along with Iraq, along with Turkey. We’re 7,000 miles away.” On the other hand, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CBS This Morning, “It’s complicated. There are certainly places where ISIS is more powerful today than they were three or four years ago. The caliphate is gone and their capacity to conduct external attacks has been made much more difficult. We’ve taken down significant risk — not all of it, but a significant amount.”

While ISIS is lacking in central leadership as a result of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s deteriorating health, they have been actively recruiting members at the Al Hol refugee camp. Syrian Kurds’ “inability to provide more than ‘minimal security’ at the camp has allowed the ‘uncontested conditions to spread of ISIS ideology’ there,” stated the inspector general’s report, which was prepared for the Pentagon, the State Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development

Principal Deputy Inspector General Glenn Fine also wrote, “The reduction of U.S. forces has decreased the support available for Syrian partner forces at a time when their forces need more training and equipping to respond to the ISIS resurgence.”

“Coupled with a U.S. drawdown, it’s setting the conditions for ISIS to retake pockets of territory while coercing local populations,” said Colin P. Clarke, a Senior Fellow at the Soufan Center.

Suzanne Raine, a former head of Britain’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Center commented, “However weakened ISIS may now be, they are still a truly global movement, and we are globally vulnerable.”

The United Nations report is worth a read as it gives a clear outline of how ISIS has found ways to continue operations despite a loss in strength. While ISIS may seem dormant for now, they still have high financial gains that they can exploit. Moreover, if  ISIS does cease to be an international threat, there are still a multitude of ISIS militants from Sudan to Yemen that continue to extort, behead, and torture local populations. President Trump’s claims are rooted in a lack of understanding for the power of anti-West sentiments that resonate throughout the Arab world as a result America’s decades of occupation and exploitation in the region. America’s careless and unlawful history in countries like Iraq can be traced to the proliferation of radicalism. Despite Trump not viewing ISIS as the threat it was in 2014, the United States should not be able to pull out of a conflict that they are responsible for, while leaving neighbouring countries to fend for themselves. 

ISIS came to be as a result of continuous U.S. involvement and occupation in Iraq during 2003. The group branched off from Al-Qaeda and eventually expanded into Syria. They are known for their terror propaganda, beheadings, and international attacks as well as their exploitation of our highly globalized world when recruiting members from other countries. The United States has become a key supporter of Syrian forces countering ISIS. During President Obama’s term, he conducted over 9,000 airstrikes against ISIS targets. Recently, there have been reports that ISIS has lost a lot of their territorial footholds in the Levant and Iraq due to the intervention of the United States and about 20 other countries. However, ISIS is estimated to have a war chest of up to $400 million which is accomplished through extortion, fishing, car dealing, and cannabis production. 

The decreased activity of ISIS should be worrying leaders across the world rather than allowing them to declare themselves victors. With such a pressing and terrifying issue, it comes much easier for President Trump to conceal the facts of conflict while ignoring that much of the Middle East is still suffering from the infliction that these terror groups have caused over the past 17 years.

Kerent Benjumea