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article imageIS has not been defeated in Syria, still poses huge threat: UN report

By AFP     Feb 6, 2019 in World

The Islamic State group has not been defeated in Syria and continues to pose by far the most significant threat of any terror group, UN sanctions monitors said Wednesday, contradicting President Donald Trump's claims that IS is nearly wiped out.

There are between 14,000 and 18,000 IS militants in Syria and in Iraq, including up to 3,000 foreign fighters, according to a report by the sanctions monitoring team presented to the Security Council.

"ISIL has not yet been defeated in the Syrian Arab Republic, but it remains under intense military pressure in its residual territory stronghold in the east of the country," said the report, using the acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Other acronyms for the group are IS, ISIS and Daesh.

"It has shown a determination to resist and the capability to counter-attack."

Trump stunned Western allies on December 19 by announcing that the United States would pull its 2,000 troops out of Syria, declaring that IS had been defeated.

His assertion has collided with the assessment of his own national intelligence director, Dan Coats, who described the jihadist group as a potent threat in the Middle East and to the West.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a 79-nation meeting in Washington on Wednesday that the United States remained committed to crushing IS but added that the approach could change in "an era of decentralized jihad."

The sanctions monitors, who reported on the threat from IS, Al-Qaeda and other groups blacklisted as terror groups by the United Nations, said the Islamic jihadists ranked as the most dangerous.

"ISIL continues to be associated with more terrorist activity than any competitor group, so it continues to pose by far the most significant threat," said the report.

- Covert network -

UN sanctions monitors said that with the loss of its caliphate in Iraq and Syria, IS had morphed into a covert network, under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

IS leadership has been reduced to a dispersed group and "is directing some fighters to return to Iraq to join the network there" with the aim "to survive, consolidate and resurge in the core area," said the report.

"If successful, ISIL may be expected to revive its focus on external terrorist operations, but for now the ISIL core lacks the capability to direct international attacks," it added.

The extremist group that once controlled large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria remains a global organization even if the number of external attacks dropped in 2018 compared to 2017.

The report by the UN analysts draws mostly on information provided by UN member states and covers the period from July to December 2018.

In Syria, only a small pocket of IS fighters battle on near the Iraqi border, around the town of Hajin, where some 3,000 to 4,000 IS fighters remain, most of whom are from Iraq, the monitors said.

About 3,000 IS fighters are active in Iraq, according to one member state, but other governments believe that the number is much larger.

About 1,000 foreign fighters are detained in Iraq and just under 1,000 in northeast Syria although governments are struggling to confirm the nationalities of the detainees, said the report.

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