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.”
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.
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.
The so-called Islamic State (IS) group moved into Libya in 2014, amidst the chaos that followed the ouster of Moamer Kadhafi in 2011. On 1 August 2016, at the request of Libya’s unity government, United States warplanes carried out their first air strikes on positions in the IS bastion of Sirte.
Below are key dates of IS’ presence in Libya:
First Jihadist Attacks
- 19 November 2014 – The US says that it is “concerned” by reports that radical extremists with avowed ties to IS are destabilizing eastern Libya, having already seized vast areas of territory in Iraq and Syria.
- 27 December 2014 – IS claims responsibility for a car bombing outside the diplomatic security building in Tripoli. The attack causes no casualties.
- 27 January 2015 – IS claims responsibility for an attack on Tripoli’s luxury Corinthia Hotel, in which nine people, including five foreigners, are killed.
Since January 2015, IS has carried out a number of suicide attacks, including the February 2015 attack in Al-Qoba, near the eastern town of Derna, which killed 44 people; and the January 2016 attack that targeted a police school in Zliten, east of Tripoli, which killed more than 50 people.
IS Videos of Killings
- 15 February 2015 – IS releases a video depicting the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians, in which all but one was Egyptian. The militant group states that the act was filmed in January. Egypt carried out air strikes on IS in its then stronghold of Derna.
- 19 April 2015 – A new video shows the execution-style killing of 28 Christians originally from Ethiopia.
IS Seizes Sirte
- 9 June 2015 – IS announces that it has captured Sirte, which is located east of Tripoli. The city is the hometown of Kadhafi.
- 12 July 2015 – After weeks of fierce fighting with Derna’s Mujahedeen Council, IS finally acknowledges that it has been pushed out of the town.
First US Strikes
- 13 November 2015 – The US bombs IS leaders in Libya for the first time, stating that it killed Abu Nabil, an Iraqi also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al-Zubaydi. Libyan officials identify him as the IS chief in Derna.
- 19 February 2016 – A US air strike on a jihadist training camp near Sabratha, which is located west of Tripoli, kills about fifty people.
- 24 February 2016 – Some 200 jihadists briefly occupy central Sabratha before being ousted by militias.
Offensive on Sirte
- 30 March 2016 – Despite the hostility of rival authorities, the head of Libya’s UN-backed unity government, Fayez al-Sarraj, arrives in Tripoli.
- 12 May 2016 – A vast offensive to recapture Sirte is launched by forces loyal to the unity government.
- 4 June 2016 – Unity government forces say that they have retaken a jihadist air base located south of Sirte.
- 9 June 2016 – Government forces enter the centre of Sirte and besiege the jihadists.
- 23 July 2016 – Loyalist forces say that they have seized a building used by IS to manufacture explosives.
- 1 August 2016 – Sarraj confirms that the US has carried out airstrikes on IS positions in Sirte for the first time. He indicates that the move was at the request of the unity government. A US senior administration official disclosed that American troops will not take part in any ground operations in support of the government.
Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti disclosed last week the the Italian government is ready to “positively evaluate” any request for air base or air space use in the US airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) militants in Libya if that would yield “a more rapid and effective end” to the campaign.
The minister made the comments in response to questions in the Chamber of Deputies about the airstrikes, which were launched on the IS stronghold town of Sirte. Pinotti further disclosed that the US military action, which began last week “will be limited in time and area of operation, doesn’t foresee the use of ground forces and is limited to allowing the Libyan forces to successfully defeat the terrorist forces in the area of Sirte,” adding, “the government is ready to positively evaluate any request for use of bases and air space if that would be functional to a more rapid and effective conclusion to the operation underway.” She noted that so far, the US airstrikes have not involved flights over Italian territory however she added that Premier Matteo Renzi’s government “contends that the success of the fighting aimed at eliminating terroristic centres of ISIS (IS) in Libya is of fundamental importance for the security not just of that country, but also of Europe and Italy.”
On Tuesday 2 August, Italy’s foreign minister disclosed that stabilizing Libya would also help control the migrant crisis. Migrant smugglers have exploited conflict and chaos in Libya to launch boats from its long Mediterranean coast carrying hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers and other refugees from Africa and the Middle East to Italian shores.
Premier Renzi has in the passed repeatedly stressed that Italy would support anti-IS action in Libya only if the UN-brokered unity government requested such raids. Earlier this year, the Italian government disclosed that armed US drones could use the Sigonella base if needed to protect US military forces in anti-IS strikes in Libya however it stressed that it would not allow the Sicilian base to be used for offensive purposes. US President Barack Obama authorized the Pentagon to open a new, more persistent front against IS insurgents in Libya after the internationally backed government asked for help with precision targeting inside Sirte.