The top United States commander for the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) group reported this month that military campaigns in Iraq and Syria have taken 45,000 enemy combatants off the battlefield and reduced the total number of IS fighters to as few as 15,000.
Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland disclosed that both the quality and number of IS fighters is declining, warning however that it is difficult to determine accurate estimates. Earlier estimates put the number of IS fighters between 19,000 and 25,000 however US officials have stated that the range is now roughly 15,000 to 20,000.
Stating that “the enemy is in retreat on all fronts,” MacFarland disclosed that US-backed local forces in both Iraq and in neighbouring Syria have been gaining ground, adding that the flow of foreign fighters into these two countries has decreased and that many people pressed into fighting for IS are unwilling or untrained. Speaking to Pentagon reporters during a video conference, MacFarland stated, “all I know is when we go someplace, its easier to go there now than it was a year ago. And the enemy doesn’t put up as much of a fight.”
MacFarland went on to state that Syrian democratic forces are on the brink of defeating IS in Manbij, Syria, in a matter of weeks. According to MacFarland, the city is largely in the hands of the Syrian democratic forces and the pockets of enemy resistance are shrinking daily, adding, “I don’t give it very long before that operation is concluded, and that will deal a decisive blow to the enemy.” Asked how long it will take, he stated possibly a week or two, however he noted that there was still a lot of enemy foreign fighters there battling hard to keep control of the city.
Meanwhile in neighbouring Iraq, MacFarland disclosed that Iraqi forces are in a position to begin to retake the northern city of Mosul, adding that the US still has quite a bit of work to do at the Qayyarah Air Base in northern Iraq before it can be used as a hub for the battle to retake Mosul. President Barack Obama authorized the deployment of 560 more US troops to Iraq in a bid to help transform the air base into a staging area for the eventual battle to oust IS from Mosul. The group has held the city since June 2014, using it as its headquarters. The US troops will include engineers, logistics personnel, security and communications forces. Some teams of US forces have been in and out of the base to evaluate it and the work that must be done, with officials stating that large numbers of troops have not yet arrived.
Despite successes in both countries against the militant group, MacFarland cautioned that Is will continue to be a threat, stating, “military success in Iraq and Syria will not necessarily mean the end of Daesh,” using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic state group.” H e went on to state that “we can expect the enemy to adapt, to morph into a true insurgent force and terrorist organization capable of horrific attacks like the one here on July 3 in Baghdad and those others we’ve seen around the world.”
While United States President Barack Obama was determined not to get into a full war in Syria and Iraq, statistics from the two-year campaign show that the war is far from over.
When the US-led coalition began bombing the so-called Islamic State (IS) group’s targets in Iraq and Syria, senior general and politicians warned at the time that it would be a “generational struggle” that would “last many years.” Two years on, that prediction has proved to be accurate and while the campaign has had its successes, it appears to be far from over.
More than 14,000 strikes have been carried out in the past two years at a cost of US $8.4 billion to the United States and US $365 million to the United Kingdom. In these strikes, some 26,000 targets have been either damaged or destroyed. Rather than lessening the campaign, officials have opted to step it up in its second year. In its second year, there have been 2,336 more airstrikes, which have also resulted in twice as many civilian deaths. According to a London-based monitor, called Airwars, 1,080 civilians have been killed. The Pentagon however assesses that only fifty-five civilians have been killed by US aircraft while the UK Ministry of Defense states that British airstrikes have not resulted in any innocent deaths. In Iraq, some 3.2 million Iraqis have been displaced, however the number of Syrians is considerably greater and this mass exodus has changed borders, swelled towns and emptied cities.
While when he first announced the airstrikes in 2014, President Barack Obama stated that he “…will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” that appears to have failed as there are currently some 3,800 US soldiers in Iraq. US, UK and French Special Forces are also operating in Iraq as well as in Syria. A further 400 American troops will also be deployed to an airbase south of Mosul to help the push on that strategic city.
The so-called Islamic State (IS) militant group has announced that its West African affiliate, Nigerian-based Boko Haram, has a new leader.
Abu Musab al-Barnawi, who was previously a spokesman for the Nigerian-based militant group, has ben featured in the latest issue of an IS magazine, which makes no reference to Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader since 2009. However just a day later after the announcement, Shekau maintained that he is still the leader of Boko Haram, rejecting a successor who was announced just hours earlier by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and effectively exposing the biggest rift yet amongst Nigeria’s deadly Islamic insurgents. An audio speech purporting to be from Shekau criticized al-Barnawi and said that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi did not respond to several letters from Shekau explaining that al-Barnawi is “an infidel” preaching “false creeds.” Shekau called the announcement “a coup,” adding “today I woke up to see one who is an infidel whom they want me to follow. No I wont…We cannot subject ourselves to people who are in ignorance of all holy books and teachings.” He also highlighted ideological differences with al-Barnawi, who promised in an interview that was published on Wednesday in IS newspaper al-Nabaa to end attacks on mosques and markets frequented by Muslims. Such attacks have been a hallmark of Boko Haram under Shekau, who has led the group since 2009. Shekau’s declaration could effectively pave the way for a break from IS and Boko Haram’s possible return to the influence of al-Qaeda. It could also cause insurgent rivals to turn their guns on each other.
Boko Haram, which is fighting to overthrow the Nigerian government, has lost most of the territory it controlled 18 months ago, effectively forcing the militant group to change its tactics and to launch hit-and-run attacks in northeastern Nigeria, as well as in neighbouring countries in the Lake Chad Basin, including Chad and Cameroon. Its seven-year insurgency has left 20,000 people deadly, mainly in the northeast of Nigeria, and has displaced thousands more. Shekau took over as the group’s leader after its founder, Muhammad Yusuf, died in Nigerian police custody in July 2009. Under his leadership, Boko Haram became more radical – carrying out more brutal attacks and killings. It swore allegiance to IS in March 2015. In numerous videos, Shekau taunted the Nigerian authorities, and celebrated the group’s violent attacks, including the April 2014 abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from the village of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. Nigeria’s army has claimed on several occasions to have killed him.
The United Nations has reported that thousands of Yazidis are being held captive by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, where many are used for sexual slavery or forced to fight for the group. The report comes on the second anniversary of what investigators have termed a genocide.
A UN-appointed commission of independent war crimes investigators disclosed in June that IS was committing genocide against the Yazidis, which is a religious community comprising of 400,000 people in northern Iraq. It noted that the genocide began with an attack on their city of Sinjar on 3 August 2014. The UN further disclosed that most of the captives have been taken to neighbouring Syria, “where Yazidi women and girls continued to be sexually enslaved and Yazidi boys indoctrinated, trained and used in hostilities.” The UN has reported that around 3,200 Yazidi women and girls are being held captive and that thousands of men and boys remain missing.
The designation of genocide, rare under international law, would effectively mark the first recognized genocide carried out by non-state actors, rather than a state or paramilitaries acting on its behalf.
Police in Italy arrested a Syrian man in the northern city of Genoa on 3 August on suspicion that he was planning to travel to his home country to join Islamist militants.
In a statement, police reported that their anti-terrorism unit had arrested an unemployed man, 23, who they said was planning to return to Syria to join the rebel group Nusra Front. He was arrested on suspicion of supporting international terrorism. Police have further disclosed that they are investigating the arrested man’s relationship with other foreigners in the Genoa area in order to determine whether they were trying to recruit fighters. They have disclosed that there is currently no indication that attacks in Italy were being planned.
The news comes just a day after Interior Minister Angelino Alfano disclosed that Italy had expelled a 26-year-old Pakistani man who officials have said supported the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and was planning to go to Syria to join Islamist militants.
The Syrian Islamist rebel group, which emerged at the beginning of the Syrian conflict, re-branded itself at the end of July this year as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and cut ties with international jihadist network al-Qaeda.